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and the Rise of 
Arab Nationalism 


I Bayt Al Ara 



Modern Middle East Series, number 22 

Sponsored by the 

Center for Middle Eastern Studies (cmes) 

The University of Texas at Austin 



Copyright © 2005 by the 
University of Texas Press 

All rights reserved 

Printed in the United 
States of America 

First edition, 2005 

Requests for permission 
to reproduce material from 
this work should be sent to 


University of Texas Press, 

PO. Box 7819, Austin, TX 

Summary: “A history of the largest 
and longest-lasting people's revolt 
in the Arab East , which attempted 
to liberate Syria from French 
Mandate rule in 1925” — Provided 
by publisher. 

® The paper used in this 
book meets the minimum 
requirements of ansi/niso z 
39.48-1992 (R1997) 

(Permanence of Paper). 

Library of Congress 
Cataloging-in-Publication Data 

Provence, Michael, 1966- 
The great Syrian revolt and the 
rise of Arab nationalism / 

Michael Provence. — 1st ed. 
p. cm. — 

(Modern Middle East series , no. 22) 

Includes bibliographical refer- 
ences and index. 

isbn 0-292-70635-9 
(hardcover : alk. paper) 
isbn 0-292-70680-4 
(pbk. : alk. paper) 

1. Syria — History — 

Insurrection, 1925-1927. 2. 

Mandates — Syria. 3. French — 
Syria. I. Title. II. Modern 
Middle East series (Austin, Tex.) 

; no. 22. 

DS98.P76 2005 

956.9104'! — dc22 


To the memory of 
Bill O’Brien 







chapter i. Introduction i 

Greater Syria and Ottoman Rule 5 

Ottoman Reform 9 

The Great Syrian Revolt 12 

Contrasting Narratives 14 

Theorizing Insurgent and National Consciousness 20 

Sources 23 

chapter 2. The Hawran Frontier 27 

Settling the Frontier 29 

Rural Autonomy and Commercial Integration 33 

Assimilating the Countryside: Education and the Army 38 
The Arab Revolt and the Hawran Druze 42 

chapter 3. Mobilizing the Mountain 48 

Claiming the Mandate 48 

Governing Jabal Hawran 5 1 

Organizing for Resistance 57 

chapter 4. Mobilizing the City 65 

Damascus 67 

The People's Party 68 

Making Contact with the Countryside 70 

Hawran Peace Negotiations 74 




The Spread of Rebellion 


Urban Agitation 


Rebellion in Hamah 


Rebellion in Damascus 



The Politics of Rebellion 


Insurgents in the Countryside of Damascus 


Elite Politics and Mandate Counterinsurgency 


Military Suppression and Mandate Counterinsurgency 


Debating Rebellion 

T 33 


Epilogue and Conclusions 







T 55 







Greater Syria under mandate rule 



Map of Hawran and Damascus 



Hawran village street scene 



Prisoner exchange celebration 



Damascus under bombardment 



Ghuta rebels 



Maydan rebels 

1 G 


Ramadan Shallash surrenders 



1929 rebel conference 




I t is a pleasure to record my thanks to the people who contributed to this 
book. The indelible traces of wonderful teachers and friends are imprinted 
on each page, and the existence of this project is unimaginable to me without 
their help. Rashid Khalidi, Cornell Fleischer, and Beshara Doumani gener- 
ously guided the dissertation from which it grew. They have long supported 
my endeavors. 

Many people have read, commented on, and encouraged my efforts over 
the years. I would like to acknowledge a debt of gratitude to Dennis Cordell, 
Philip Khoury, David Yaghoubian, Abdallah Hanna, Thomas Philipp, Ron- 
ald Inden, James Hopkins, FrankPeter, Nadine Meouchy, Peter Sluglett, Ha- 
san Kayali, Eugene Rogan, James Gelvin, Abdul-Rahim Abu Husayn, Ziad 
Abu Shaqra, Hasan Amin al-Bi‘ayni, Fandi Abu Fahkr, Khairia Kasmieh, Ira 
Lapidus, Cristoph Schumman, John Meloy, Robert Blecher, Stefan Weber, 
Astrid Meier, Adil Samara, Sana al-Wazir, Cristoph Melchert, Soo Yong 
Kim, Joseph Logan, Talal Rizk, Jens Hanssen, Anne Broadbridge, Bruce 
Craig, Rusty Rook, Ussama Makdisi, Kamal Salibi, Roger Owen, Farouk 
Mustafa, Edward Thomas, Hesham el-Rewini, Andrea Boardman, Joseph 
Esherick, Engin Akarli, Muhammad Tarabayh, Gavin Brockett, Ken Gar- 
den, David Peters, Maurice Pomerantz, Stefan Winter, and Hayrettin Yiice- 
soy. It has been my great good fortune to benefit from their help and friend- 
ship. They are blameless if I did not always listen or understand good advice 
generously offered. 

I have been the grateful recipient of much institutional support. I thank 
the History Department at the University of California at San Diego, the 
Clements Department of History at Southern Methodist University, the 
Center for Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Texas, the Center 
for Middle Eastern Studies and the History Department at the University 
of Chicago, the Mellon Foundation, the Fulbright-Hays Commission of the 
United States Department of Education, the Fulbright Commission’s In- 
stitute of International Education, and the University of California, Berke- 
ley. In Damascus, I benefited from the invaluable archival collections of the 



Historical Documents Center (Markaz al-Watha 3 iq al-Tarikhiyya) under the 
direction of Mme. D‘ad al-Hakim. The Institut Fran9aise d’Etudes Arabes 
de Damas, under the direction of Professor Dominique Malet, Dr. Nadine 
Meouchy, and Dr. Michel Nieto, was my institutional home for more than 
two years. The German Archaeological Institutes in Damascus and Beirut 
graciously welcomed me and provided much help. In Beirut, Jafet Library and 
the History Department at the American University in Beirut (aub) were tre- 
mendously hospitable. In France, the Ministere des Affaires Etrangeres, Ar- 
chives Diplomatiques, in Nantes was a wonderful place to work and provided 
me every courtesy. Pierre Fournie helped with photos, and Jerome Cookson 
created the maps. At the University of Texas, Annes McCann-Baker, Wendy 
Moore, Carolyn Cates Wylie, and Kathy Lewis guided the book, and its anx- 
ious author, with sympathy, skill, and patience. 

Finally, this work would never have been possible without the love and 
support of my family. My parents, grandparents, and parents-in-law have en- 
couraged and supported me in ways too great to recount. Lor Wood has been 
a source of inspiration. She shared it all. 









American University of Beirut 
British Foreign Office 

Institut Fran9aise d’Etudes Arabes de Damas 
International Journal of Middle Eastern Studies 
Ministere des Affaires Etrangeres 
Markaz al-Watha’iq al-Tarikhiyya 
Service Flistorique de TArmee Terre 


\ rabic words have been transliterated into Latin script according to the sys- 
tem employed by ijmes. The diacritic a has been used to indicate long 
vowels. Ottoman Turkish words have been rendered into Latin script accord- 
ing to the rules of modern Turkish. Names and words reasonably familiar to 
the English-speaking reader have been rendered in their familiar form (for 

example, Druze rather than duruz ). 





The Jebel Druse is a country of great feudal chiefs, whose efforts are 
directed to preserving the powers by which they live. What we call 
progress means in their eyes the loss of their privileges and later on 
perhaps the partition of their lands. With regard to the inhabitants, 
who are ignorant or unmindful of any better fate, they are deeply rooted 
in their serfdom and are as conservative as their masters. They have no 
aspirations for a system of greater social justice nor [sic] for a better 
communal life. 

— Testimony to the League of Nations Permanent Mandates 
Commission investigating the Syrian Revolt, Geneva, 1926 1 

Syrians, remember your forefathers, your history, your heroes, your 
martyrs, and your national honor. Remember that the hand of God is 
with us and that the will of the people is the will of God. Remember 
that civilized nations that are united cannot be destroyed. 

The imperialists have stolen what is yours. They have laid hands on 
the very sources of your wealth and raised barriers and divided your 
indivisible homeland. They have separated the nation into religious 
sects and states. They have strangled freedom of religion, thought, 
conscience, speech, and action. We are no longer even allowed to move 
about freely in our own country. 

To arms! Let us realize our national aspirations and sacred hopes. 

To arms! Confirm the supremacy of the people and the freedom of 
the nation. 

To arms! Let us free our country from bondage. 

— Excerpt from a rebel manifesto signed by Sultan 
al-Atrash and issued on 23 August 1923 2 

I n late July 1922 a small group of men waited in the shade of a tree along- 
side a lonely road in rural southern Syria . Syria was a new country in 19 22 . 
The victorious European powers had carved it out of the defeated Otto- 
man Empire in the wake of the First World War in 1918. Less than two years 


figure i. Greater Syria under mandate rule 

later, in 1920, France occupied the country against the wishes of most of its 
inhabitants, including the men under the tree by the road that day 

They sat above a gravel track which followed the curve of a gentle hill. The 
long hillside above the road was covered with old olive trees and jagged black 
basalt boulders. The hillside below the road descended to a plain spreading as 



far as the eye could see in the midsummer haze. It was carpeted by recently 
harvested wheat fields, now reduced to a golden stubble, dotted with graz- 
ing sheep. The men were armed with rifles and sabers and sat on horseback, 
waiting patiently, smoking and talking in low tones. 

Soon a dust cloud on the horizon signaled the approach of vehicles. The 
conversation stopped; and one among them, a short young man with a huge 
mustache that spanned his face, began to issue curt directions. The man giving 
orders was thirty-one-year-old Sultan al-Atrash. He had piercing blue eyes 
and the short, powerful stature of a wrestler. He had gathered the men to- 
gether to stop a convoy and free a prisoner that the convoy was expected to 
be transporting to Damascus, the capital, some ioo kilometers north. 

The first of three vehicles rounded the corner and came into full view. The 
men waited anxiously for Sultan al-Atrash’s signal to attack. The cars were 
armored wagons, each with a machine gun protruding from a small turret. As 
the cars presented themselves, the horsemen charged down the hill, splitting 
oft to engage each vehicle and completely surprising the drivers. Sultan al- 
Atrash was said to have leapt from his horse onto one of the cars, lifting the 
hatch and killing the three French soldiers inside with his saber. The other 
cars responded with a panicked hail of gunfire; but the horsemen were too 
quick, and the other cars were immobilized too. Four soldiers were killed, 
including the convoy’s commander, and five soldiers were captured. The ar- 
mored wagons held only soldiers, and the prisoner that they had sought to 
free was nowhere to be found. 

Unknown to the would-be rescuers, French authorities had taken the pris- 
oner, Adham Khanjar, to Damascus by airplane that morning. The French 
had accused Khanjar of taking part in an assassination attempt against a 
French general in 1921, and he had escaped to the British League of Nations 
mandate of Transjordan. In July 1922 he and a band of guerrillas had tried 
to cross the border to sabotage the electrical generating station in Damascus. 
The band had been dispersed at the border. With the French authorities in 
pursuit, Adham Khanjar sought refuge at the house of Sultan al-Atrash, a 
Druze shaykh and well-known enemy of the French mandatory government. 

Sultan al-Atrash was not in his village, and French officers captured and 
arrested Adham Khanjar. When Sultan al-Atrash learned that Khanjar had 
sought refuge at his house and was in French captivity, he went to the pro- 
vincial capital at Suwayda’ to protest the breach of customary law before the 
French authorities. According to customary law and Arab codes of honor, a 
guest who sought protection had to be welcomed and protected by his host. 



The prestige and honor of rural leaders was linked to their ability and will- 
ingness to uphold such customs of hospitality 

Sultan al-Atrash was already locally famous as a charismatic firebrand 
in the southern region of Hawran and Jabal Hawran. Jabal Hawran was the 
mountain homeland of the Druze, a minority sect that had often been at odds 
with the Ottoman state. In 1910 the Ottoman government hanged Sultan 
al-Atrash’s father for insurrection, while his son served in the Balkans as an 
Ottoman army conscript. Toward the end of the First World War he joined 
the British-supported Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire. After 1920 
he focused his opposition to French rule. While Sultan al-Atrash was a rural 
shaykh from a rebellious minority sect, he had also become a Syrian nation- 
alist. He had been exposed to new nationalist ideas while in the army and 
during the war, when he sheltered fugitive Syrian nationalists on the run 
from the Ottoman authorities in Damascus. After the war, Sultan al-Atrash 
maintained his contacts with Syrian nationalists, including men like Adham 
Khanjar, a Shi'a from the west, who was suspected of ties to Amir Abdallah, 
Hashemite prince of Transjordan. They sought a unified Greater Syria, in- 
cluding the French and British mandates of Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, and 
Transjordan, independent and undivided by borders. 

While Adham Khanjar was imprisoned, Sultan al-Atrash sent a series of 
telegrams to the native and French authorities protesting the breach of cus- 
tomary law. To the native governor, his cousin Salim al-Atrash, he argued 
that the breach was an insult to the honor of the Druze and to Syria. To 
the French authorities he argued that the breach was in violation of previ- 
ous agreements between the mandate government and the Druze. His rela- 
tives rejected his appeal, and the French argued that his protests were excuses 
for lawlessness and refused to release the prisoner. 3 Sultan al-Atrash failed to 
rouse Jabal Hawran, but he managed to gather his brothers and a few friends 
to launch an attack to free Khanjar. French forces responded to the destruc- 
tion of the convoy by issuing warrants for the rebels, bombing their villages, 
and destroying their houses. 

In 1922 French authorities considered Sultan al-Atrash a minor provincial 
outlaw in a country full of outlaws and rebels against the mandatory occupa- 
tion. Many Druze of Jabal Hawran considered him a hero; but the Druze had 
experienced many rebellions against the Ottoman government, and his call to 
revolt was not widely popular. Sultan al-Atrash hoped to spark a wider revolt 
that would provide the Druze with the greater autonomy that they had man- 
aged to wrest from the Ottoman state. Perhaps he hoped to lead the Druze 

Greater Syria and Ottoman Rule 


and Syrians generally in a national uprising to expel France from the Middle 

The uprising failed. Sultan al-Atrash and a few others fled over the bor- 
der to Transjordan and launched periodic guerrilla raids against French forces. 
The mandate government executed Adham Khan jar, but less than a year later 
the government pardoned Sultan al-Atrash and his comrades. French officials 
hoped that they would lay down their arms and return to lead quiet lives in 
their villages, isolated from the wider currents of nationalist politics. It was 
not to be. 4 


Greater Syria, comprising the modern states of Syria, Jordan, Israel/Palestine, 
and Lebanon, became part of the Ottoman Empire in 1516. For the next 
four centuries the degree of control exerted by the central state in Istanbul 
waxed and waned. The agricultural lands, pasture, and trade routes of the 
region thrived when the state was strong. Agriculture contracted when the 
state was weak, and the zones of nomadic pasture increased. As trade and its 
revenue were lost to the state, powerful local families or outside powers filled 
the void left by state contraction. The principal cities— Damascus, Aleppo, 
Hamah, and Jerusalem— remained important and commanded their agricul- 
tural hinterlands and trade routes. Damascus and Jerusalem were also impor- 
tant pilgrimage stations and destinations, which added to their economies and 
their significance to the central government. In the late nineteenth century, 
after decades of administrative reform, the state haltingly renewed control 
and divided the region into the three Ottoman provinces (wilayat) of Syria, 
Aleppo, and Beirut and the special administrative district (sanjaq) of Jerusa- 
lem and the separate governate (mutasarrijiyya) of Mount Lebanon. Coastal 
cities like Beirut, Haifa, and Tripoli became more important as the Ottoman 
Arab provinces were incorporated into world trade networks for the export of 
grain, oranges, and silks and the import of European manufactured goods. 

The land was fertile, the cities rich and cultured. From Palestine in the 
south to the Taurus Mountains in the north, the eastern Mediterranean met 
the land along a well-watered coastal plain. In the south the plain was wide 
and ascended gradually to a plateau; higher mountains separated the zone of 
increasingly marginal agricultural land from the steppe and finally the Syrian 
desert. Farther north, in the present-day states of Lebanon and Syria, the 
edge of the plateau became a coastal mountain range, ascending from a nar- 
row plain to sometimes snow-capped peaks in a few kilometers. Beyond the 



coastal or Mount Lebanon range lay the Biqa'a (Bekaa) valley; while less well 
watered than the coastal zone, the valley was always fertile. Beyond it rose a 
second mountain range, the Anti-Lebanon, separating the fertile zone from 
the steppe and desert to the east. 

Damascus nestled on the far slope of the eastern mountains, at the end 
of a small river that watered the city and made it an oasis on the edge of the 
desert. Vast and densely cultivated gardens surrounded Damascus at the foot 
of the mountain and produced much of the city’s food. To the south of the 
city, and to the east of the Anti-Lebanon range, lay the plain of Hawran, an 
area of rich volcanic steppe land that had produced vast wheat harvests in Ro- 
man times and had often reverted to nomadic pastureland in times of weak 
government control. To the east rose a remote volcanic spur called variously 
Jabal Hawran, Jabal al- Arab, or Jabal Druze, the final outpost of settled agri- 
culture between Syria and the Euphrates in Iraq. 

The human geography of Greater Syria was similarly rich. Arabic was the 
common language of the whole region, spoken by Jews, Muslims, and Chris- 
tians of the various sects. Although some of the minorities retained separate 
liturgical languages, and a few villages of mixed Muslim and Christian habi- 
tation preserved spoken Aramaic, Arabic vastly prevailed in daily life. Liter- 
ary Ottoman Turkish was the language of government, while literary Arabic 
was used for commercial records, religion, intellectual pursuits, and law. 

The coastal regions were typically the home of Sunni Muslims, both mer- 
chants in the cities and peasants in the villages. The mountain areas were often 
home to the minority sects that sought refuge or isolation from the majority. 
Among them were the Maronite Christians, who maintained an indigenous 
rite in union with Rome, in the region of Mount Lebanon; the Druze, who 
derived their esoteric religion from certain elements of Isma'ili Shi'ism, also 
in Mount Lebanon and in a few other isolated areas; and the Alawi, who 
practiced an esoteric faith also derived from Shi'ism, west of Hamah and in 
the mountains in what became northern Syria and southern Turkey. Isma'ili 
Shi'a lived in a few mountain villages west of Hamah; and Imami or Twelver 
Shi'a lived in the gardens of Damascus and in what came to be southern 
Lebanon near Jabal al-‘Amil. Orthodox and Greek Catholic Christians lived 
in agricultural villages and in the cities, while Jews mostly lived in the cities. 
The nomads, who were divided by vocation and tribe between permanent 
nomads and semisedentary nomads, were mostly Sunni, though there were 
also Orthodox Christian nomads in the plain of Hawran. 

The hand of the state was necessarily light on the Arab provinces. The 
imperial center rarely had the resources or the will to impose direct rule on 

Greater Syria and Ottoman Rule 


its distant possessions and ruled instead through local elites. The Ottoman 
provincial ruling classes were, like the ruling classes of the state center, pri- 
marily Sunni. The top political families of Damascus usually got their start 
in government service (either civil or, more likely, military) and later became 
tax brokers, government officials, and eventually big landlords. These families 
provided generations of sons for high positions in local government and reli- 
gious/legal leadership. They served as mediators between the central state and 
local society. Albert Hourani famously sketched the outlines of their world 
in his article “Ottoman Reform and the Politics of Notables” in 1968. 

The prominent position of the leading families depended both on access 
to state authority and on independent power rooted in the local society. The 
political behavior of such families was characterized by caution and ambi- 
guity. They sought to maintain balance between both poles of their power 
and avoided appearing to be either enemies or mere instruments of state 
authority. 5 Hourani ’s description of Ottoman provincial society emphasized 
three social groups, the State, the Notables, and, by implication, the raiya or 
state subjects. The notable class mediated between the vast majority consid- 
ered raiya and the tiny minority that represented the state, in the form of a 
rotating elite of provincial governors and garrison commanders that Istanbul 
frequently reassigned. 

Hourani described a negotiated and contested power relationship. Philip 
Khoury later demonstrated that the overarching role of the imperial power 
was eventually transferred to the civil and military functionaries of the French 
mandate after 1920. Under both Ottoman and French rule, the political not- 
ables struck a bargain in which they enjoyed variable and qualified access to 
political power and tremendous economic power in return for minimizing the 
political aspirations of the great mass of the subject population. 6 

Local power was based on control of land and agricultural surpluses. 
Claims to represent a “natural leadership” were based on the ability to dis- 
pense patronage among the dependent subordinate classes, whether peasants 
or inhabitants of a given urban quarter dominated by a notable family. Fami- 
lies from Damascus and Hamah owned entire villages in the surrounding re- 
gions. Single extended families controlled scores or even hundreds of villages 
comprising thousands of individuals. The share of agricultural produce re- 
tained by peasants often barely met the level of subsistence. Leading families 
usually lived in Damascus in grand houses that included multiple courtyards 
and scores of rooms on two or three levels. Dozens of family members might 
inhabit a single house, but leading families often owned several houses. The 
houses dominated the urban quarters in which they were situated, and the 



families supported all kinds of activities in the quarter from youth clubs to 
Sufi orders to trade and craft guilds. The leading families also owned large 
areas of urban real estate, which they leased for commercial and residential 
purposes. Most merchants and traders in a given quarter might turn to the 
principal local notable as landlord, employer, protector, contract guarantor, 
moneylender, and dispute arbiter, among other things . 7 

Seismic changes in late Ottoman provincial society had made such pa- 
tronage networks less comprehensive than they had once been. Integration 
into world markets had made new mercantile families more prominent. In the 
Maydan neighborhood of southern Damascus in particular, grain merchants 
and exporters worked outside the system of patronage and protection, dealing 
directly with grain cultivators when they could and emphasizing commercial 
relations rather than government connections. Large areas of agricultural land 
were brought under the plow and were not subject to the old arrangements. 
Peasants migrated to areas where they could approach the status of indepen- 
dent proprietors rather than chattel. New educational institutions fostered 
the emergence of new classes. 

The tremendous wave of social change finally crested and broke between 
1918 and 1949, but the story of the old notables remained dominant. Scholars, 
and the members of the notable families themselves, continued to interpret 
history as the story of the scions of a dozen Damascus families. Arab nation- 
alism was understood as the ideology of a tiny elite; and until the 1990s schol- 
ars focused obsessively on the writings of scarcely a score of extraordinarily 
privileged men. Few scholars explained how an elite ideology of intellectuals 
and wealthy landowners had suddenly burst forth in 1920 to fill the streets of 
Damascus with ordinary people protesting for national rights and an end to 
European occupation. The nationalist independence movement of the inter- 
war period was broadly understood to be the political preserve of the same 
dozen families, and the elite emphasis of written history was undisturbed. 8 

The great mass of the subject population remained silent and presumably 
supine. So while historians readily explained the bargains that the powerful 
made with the still more powerful, no one seemed to be able to explain the 
bargains made between the comparatively weak and numerous and the com- 
paratively powerful and few. How, in other words, did the notable class de- 
liver the tacit consent or at least grudging acquiescence of those it sought to 
dominate in concert with the imperial power? How did ordinary people feel 
about their peripheral role in politics? When uprisings emerged, who led and 
who followed? What did Syrian nationalism mean in 1925? 

Ottoman Reform 



The Ottoman reform movement emerged in the first half of the nineteenth 
century. Reformers worked to strengthen the military, extend central govern- 
ment control, and improve revenue collection. By the end of the century the 
cumulative results of reform had reached most Ottoman subjects. The hand 
of the state extended to social and geographical terrains that it had never be- 
fore touched. The private ownership of state agricultural land became codified 
and legalized in 1858. State education was expanded first in military acade- 
mies in the imperial capital, then in medical schools and civil service acade- 
mies, and eventually in scores of provincial secondary and preparatory schools 
organized along similar lines as the central academies. Military and bureau- 
cratic reform and the idea of Ottoman patriotism went together as the state’s 
reformers helped to create an imperial elite of modern, educated Ottomans, 
with decreasing legal distinctions by religion or sect. Efforts at universal con- 
scription and elite state education served these goals. 

Legal reform of landholding was particularly important in the provincial 
regions. Legally speaking, most agricultural land had been the property of 
the state, while heritable cultivation rights lay with the peasants who worked 
it. The land law of 1858 was intended to insure tax revenues of agricultural 
lands and regulate an existing market in land. Lands that had been effectively, 
if not legally, under the control of peasants, however, often became the pri- 
vate property of urban notables. Peasants feared the extension of government 
control in taxation and military conscription and rarely registered their lands, 
while urban notables with greater resources and legal know-how manipu- 
lated the registration process to consolidate their holdings. Provincial elites 
had been tax collectors and brokers of agricultural lands, and the new laws 
made it possible for them to become landlords, drawing them and the lands 
they controlled more firmly into the embrace of the state but also bestowing 
new rights in return. 9 Land reform measures were intended to bring peasants 
under state control. The law’s intentions were mostly subverted by provincial 
elites. In the areas of Greater Syria long under intensive cultivation, urban ab- 
sentee landlords became more powerful, while cultivators became weaker and 
probably poorer. Although the state sought to increase revenue, and provin- 
cial elites sought to increase their control of land, sometimes powerful forces 
pulled in other directions. 

International trade increased tremendously in the nineteenth century. 
Cotton from India and Egypt fed the textile mills of Lancashire, and manu- 
factured cloth and other goods were exported to the Ottoman Empire via 



its thriving Mediterranean ports. Wheat, cotton, silk, and other agricultural 
products became the major exports from Greater Syria. Sometimes the Otto- 
man state helped to facilitate the new trade, but more often it was the work of 
Ottoman subjects adjusting to and profiting from new realities. Enterprising 
peasants and merchants opened up new areas of the Arab Ottoman realms to 
settled agriculture and often staunchly resisted state attempts to levy taxes on 
their labor. Vast areas of rain-fed farmland were wrested from nomads and 
government neglect and brought under the plow. 

The independent-minded people of these frontier regions felt that they 
had earned the right of relative independence from the state and deeply re- 
sented late nineteenth century efforts to conscript their sons and tax their 
agriculture. In Hawran south of Damascus, in the Jazira east of Aleppo in the 
middle Euphrates river valley, and elsewhere, such independent farmers regu- 
larly fought the bedouin and the state and developed a frontier warrior ethos 
that opposed the assertion of state or urban notable authority over their re- 
gions . 10 Inhabitants of such regions resisted government registration of their 
land because they feared the extension of state authority; but, unlike peas- 
ants in longer-settled regions to the west, they also resisted efforts by urban 
notables to register land on their behalf. They sought to preserve their inde- 
pendence both from the state and from provincial elites and would-be land- 
lords. Independent peasant proprietors forged commercial bonds with new 
mercantile classes in the cities, especially grain merchants. 

The Ottoman state responded to centrifugal forces in the late nineteenth 
century with both threats and enticements. Rural rebellions were suppressed 
with military force, and urban schools were built to educate and indoctrinate 
subjects in the benefits of the Ottoman system. Urban elites were the first to 
experience modern education. They sent their sons and daughters to be edu- 
cated in schools set up by French, British, and American missionaries. The 
Ottoman government responded by opening state preparatory schools in the 
imperial capital like the famous Galatasaray Lycee in Istanbul and eventually 
provincial preparatory or Edadiyya schools like Maktab Anbar in Damascus. 
More numerous secondary or Rushidiyya schools were opened in provincial 
cities all over the empire. State secondary and preparatory schools were in- 
tended to provide training and retain the loyalty of elites. It was only later 
educational efforts, particularly provincial military schools and other acade- 
mies in the capital, that were intended to foster new provincial elites and to 
draw the sons of the frontier regions into the state system . 11 

Decades of military repression preceded the policy of drawing rural in- 
habitants into the state’s embrace through education and public works. By 

Ottoman Reform 


the final decade of the nineteenth century, however, Ottoman policy had 
turned more or less in the direction of enticement rather than punishment. 
The government built wagon roads and railways, opened telegraph offices, 
established mail service, opened local schools, and established special schol- 
arships for young men from rural areas. The new institutions were widely 
mistrusted, since rural inhabitants correctly saw that telegraphs conveyed 
intelligence, roads brought government agents and police, and school rosters 
recorded names of children later to be taxed and perhaps conscripted for dis- 
tant (and possibly fatal) military service. Still, education and the government 
jobs it often brought were increasingly attractive. By the first decade of the 
twentieth century there were secondary schools in Damascus for military ser- 
vice, civil service, and female students. Within a few years demand soared, 
and it was ever more difficult to secure a place in the government schools. 

The final Ottoman decades were full of trauma and hope. In 1908 a revo- 
lution replaced the aging autocrat Abdiilhamid II with a constitutional gov- 
ernment. Elections were held, and all Ottoman provinces sent representa- 
tives to the reopened Parliament. Reform had touched everyone, but with 
reform came new internal pressures to match the crushing pressures from 
outside. Nationalist and separatist movements had emerged among the mi- 
nority populations in the empire. Italy invaded and annexed Ottoman Libya. 
Balkan Christians fought devastating wars to achieve national independence. 
Armenian, Greek, and Arab populations in Anatolia and Greater Syria were 
alienated by the increasing ethnic Turkish orientation of state elites. The new 
constitutional government, besieged from all sides, became more dictatorial 
and less representative. The idea of a nation made up of all imperial Ottoman 
subjects was strained to the breaking point. 

In 1914 a Serbian nationalist assassinated the heir to the throne of the 
Hapsburg Empire. The assassination, in the former Ottoman provincial capi- 
tal of Sarajevo, led to the First World War and the destruction of the Otto- 
man Empire. The people of Ottoman Greater Syria suffered tremendously 
between 1914 and 1918. The government conscripted hundreds of thousands 
of men, and hundreds of thousands died in the famine that accompanied the 
war. A revolt against the Ottoman army and in support of the British emerged 
in Hijaz province of western Arabia. Arab rebels entered Damascus at the end 
of the war with British troops. The Amir Faysal, leader of the revolt and son of 
Sharif al-Husayn, the former Ottoman religious governor of Mecca in Hijaz, 
believed that Britain had promised the rebels an Arab kingdom stretching 
from Iran to the Mediterranean. Britain and France, however, had produced 
a series of secret and mutually contradictory agreements over the postwar dis- 



position of the Ottoman realms. Their secret agreements with one another 
would take precedent over agreements with non-European wartime allies. 

The agreements led to the partition of the Arab Ottoman lands and most 
present-day borders. Borders and ruling arrangements were negotiated and 
casually drawn in London and Paris. Amir Faysal was crowned king of the 
new state of Syria in March 1920. The British had supported Faysal and his 
new kingdom; but in the face of French claims to Syria, Britain withdrew its 
support, Faysal fled to become British-supported king of the British mandate 
for Iraq, and France occupied Syria in July 1920. France’s League of Nations 
mandate over Syria lasted twenty-six years, until 1946. Armed opposition to 
European occupation emerged immediately in Syria, Iraq, Palestine, and else- 
where. Men from what had been the unruly fringes of empire led resistance 
movements everywhere. Sultan al-Atrash was one of them. 


In the summer of 1925, five years after France occupied Syria, the largest, 
longest, and most destructive of the Arab Middle Eastern revolts began. It 
brought together veterans of the Great War and earlier postwar rebellions and 
served as a template for later revolts, such as the revolt in Palestine in 1936. 
Contrary to the expectations of the mandatory power, the uprising began in 
an apparently remote and supposedly backward rural region. It spread to Da- 
mascus and came to include most regions and social strata of mandate Syria, 
rural and urban. For more than two years a ragtag collection of farmers, urban 
tradesmen and workers, and former junior officers of the Ottoman and Arab 
armies managed to challenge, and often defeat, the colonial army of one of 
the most powerful countries in the world. 

After five years of French military rule, the memories of war and famine 
and the defeat of the Ottoman Empire remained acute and bitter. Likewise, 
memories lingered of the British-supported Arab kingdom led by Amir Faysal 
between the end of World War I and the imposition of the mandate under 
France. Syrians had watched with awe as irregular Turkish military units ex- 
pelled would-be European occupiers by force of arms and the Turkish state 
emerged from the ashes, under the leadership of former Ottoman army offi- 
cer Mustafa Kemal (Atatiirk). 12 

Like the Turkish war of independence, the Great Syrian revolt began away 
from the urban centers. But while the circumstances of occupation in Istanbul 
and the surrender of the last Ottoman sultan to the French and British dic- 
tated resistance from distant central Anatolia, the rural origins of resistance 

The Great Syrian Revolt 


in Syria were less clear. By 1925 the occupation and pacification of Syria was 
presumed complete. Mandate authorities considered the cities of Damascus, 
Aleppo, and Hamah the likely hotbeds of anticolonial nationalist resistance 
and systematically denied the elite nationalist politicians of those cities any 
role in ruling mandate Syria. The French had intentionally separated sectar- 
ian groups from one another and separated the rural regions from the cities by 
the creation of internal borders and autonomous “statelets.” They sought to 
limit intersectarian coalitions and to isolate the countryside from the urban 
contagion of nationalist agitation. Few imagined that nationalist resistance 
would emerge in the countryside and spread to the cities— yet this is precisely 
what happened. 

The Great Revolt was a mass movement, and its tactics of armed revolt 
were far more radical than much of the elite leadership of Damascus was 
prepared to embrace. Its leaders were not members of the great landowning 
notable families who sought to become national leaders in an incremental pro- 
cess of negotiation with the French. The revolt was one of the signal events 
in the emergence of mass politics in the Arab world. It was a decisive break- 
down of the elite-dominated system of the “politics of notables” (theorized 
by Albert Hourani and discussed above). 

The axis of the revolt was the grain trade. Migrants from the minority 
Druze sect had settled and pacified the southern countryside in large numbers 
during the mid- and late nineteenth century. With the help of an emerging 
merchant class, mostly from the Maydan quarter of Damascus, they expanded 
the wide cultivation and export of Hawrani grain. These relationships and 
tensions helped foster the Great Revolt. Preexisting trade networks were pre- 
cisely the conduits through which rebellion and nationalist agitation flowed. 
Grain production was based on contractual agreements between each village 
leader and a Damascene merchant. Just as the village leaders were not great 
landlords or estate holders, the merchants were rarely from the great land- 
owning families of Damascus, who usually had vast holdings in other parts 
of Syria. 13 

The Ottoman state had played little role in pacifying the southern 
countryside but continually sought to exploit the agricultural surplus. The 
tension between the state and the rural inhabitants led to numerous re- 
volts throughout the nineteenth century. Often Damascene merchants were 
aligned with the rebellious rural regions, while the great notables were aligned 
with the Ottoman state, since both the state and its highest local officials 
sought to profit from the agricultural surplus of the region. The 1925 revolt 
began in the southern grain-producing region of Jabal Hawran and quickly 



spread to the Maydan quarter of Damascus. Many of the revolt’s leaders 
emerged from the Hawran or from the Maydan and had some connection to 
the grain trade. They were more militant in tactics and aims than the nation- 
alist elite of Damascene notables, some of whom were eventually compelled 
to join the uprising in order to escape imprisonment and to preserve their po- 
litical credibility. Several mandate and postindependence-era political lead- 
ers emphasized their role in the revolt. For example, future president Shukri 
al-Quwwatli escaped arrest and spent the revolt in Amman and Cairo, Jamil 
Mardam Bey spent the revolt in Haifa, and Fakhri al-Barudi was in jail after 
August 1925, to mention three of the most prominent. In later years, involve- 
ment in the revolt became a signifier of nationalist commitment, and these 
politicians and many others claimed a central role. 14 

French mandate authorities failed to comprehend the significance of the 
relationships and the connections among regions, classes, and sectarian groups 
in Syria. They sought to divide and govern mandate Syria along a series of 
supposedly timeless sectarian and geographical divisions. Jabal Hawran was 
one such division. The French identified all of Syrian rural society as feudal 
and exploitative, with resulting deep, but ill-defined, class cleavages. 15 The 
notion of feudal domination in the Druze region fails to account for the rise of 
rebel solidarity between supposed lords and serfs and likewise fails to explain 
the revolt’s urban appeal once it spread beyond their region. How and why 
did people whom the French viewed as exploited and exploiter join together 
to resist their self-appointed liberators? Economic relations that the French, 
and many subsequent scholars, believed separated rural people from one an- 
other and from urban populations actually brought them together. Ottoman 
secondary education forged links between people of diverse class, regional, 
and sectarian origins. When these groups joined together and began to ar- 
ticulate a nationalist vision, whose vision was it? 


The Great Revolt was a seminal, albeit contested, event in the Syrian na- 
tional narrative, and secondary works in Arabic are numerous. The revolt was 
represented as a heroic episode in the colonial history of Syria. Broad coali- 
tions of Syrians from the inland southern heartland of Bilad al-Sham — the 
lands of Damascus— joined together to resist colonial oppression. Just as the 
1960s were a heyday for nationalist politics in Syria, they were also a heyday 
for studies of the revolt. The correspondence between the revolt and an era 
of postindependence nationalist ferment was not coincidental. 

Contrasting Narratives 


Advocates of different Syrian national narratives incorporated the revolt 
into their visions of Syrian history as the postcolonial state took shape. 16 They 
emphasized the nationalist, nonsectarian aspects of the revolt and tended to 
be less interested in the local aspects, as represented by the Druze and the be- 
ginnings of the uprising. Most secondary works were written by people who 
had some close, usually family, connection to the revolt. They brought a more 
or less critical gaze to an episode that showed how diverse regions and sec- 
tarian groups had united for a common goal in the formation of the Syrian 
Arab nation— a nation that all recognized was decidedly not homogenous. 
The revolt could serve as an example, a touchstone for unity, but also (in its 
sectarian, separatist, and regionalist aspects) as an example of how far the na- 
tion had progressed by the 1960s. 

Books in this vein have disappeared since the early 1970s. The disap- 
pearance is a symptom of the political climate in modern Syria. The gen- 
eration that fought the revolt is gone, and the memoirs that they left are 
often unavailable. Most such books are out of print and hard to find. Recent 
generations have sometimes been disappointed in their nationalist and anti- 
imperialist convictions by the state of political culture and discourse in mod- 
ern Syria. There is some interest among younger Syrians in information about 
their modern history, but it is only satisfied by the innocuous productions 
of historical soap operas for television. 17 The Syrian nationalist narrative has 
been codified, and there is little space in it for heroic narratives that compete 
with the dominant narrative of the late President Hafiz al-Asad and the Ba'th 
Party. The Syrian revolt brought together the Hawran Druze and the Dama- 
scene merchant community. Arguably, the potential challenge to the govern- 
ment from one, or both, of these groups since independence has resulted in 
a certain official reluctance to highlight their heroic collaboration in 1925. 

Mandate officials claimed that the revolt was the response of retrograde 
Druze feudal lords who felt their power threatened by mandatory reforms. 
They argued relentlessly that the revolt was sectarian and not nationalist. The 
contemporary record indicates otherwise. Different sectarian groups, regions, 
and classes joined under the unifying banner, however variable, of Syrian 
patriotism and nationalism. Further, many among the rebels willingly took 
orders from leaders of different religions and geographical regions from their 
own. And while this is clear in the contemporary documents and memoirs, it 
is also clear in secondary works dealing with the revolt until the early 1970s. 18 

During the 1970s, however, something changed. The revolt became re- 
colonized; and as Damascus and Syria’s ruling apparatus changed with the 
influence of Alawi military officers and bureaucrats, Syria’s colonial history 



changed too. Syria’s military and then its government became the preserve 
of members of another formerly isolated rural sectarian minority, which had 
played no major role in the Great Revolt. The national narrative that privi- 
leged Damascus and the Druze was displaced by a narrative that included 
many revolts (in each region, all characterized by an immature political con- 
sciousness), eventually united for a final heroic march to true national con- 
sciousness and independence under the leadership of the Ba'th Party. The 
Great Revolt became one in a long line of revolts that included uprisings in 
the region of Aleppo under the leadership of Ibrahim Hananu and uprisings 
in the ‘Alawi region east of the coastal city of Latakia under Salih al-Ali. The 
Great Revolt remains an episode that does not fit neatly into the post-1970 
national narrative; therefore, it is usually simply ignored. 

Nationalism is not the only motif of works dealing with the revolt. In the 
last fifteen years books have been published that stress the sectarian aspects 
of the uprising. The studies of Hasan al-Bi‘ayni, a Lebanese Druze scholar, 
are foremost among these. 19 While there is a hegemonic national narrative 
in Syria that forbids the public discussion of sectarian differences, in Leba- 
non the national narrative has been highly contested along sectarian lines. 
Indeed, the factions in the Lebanese civil war were often split by sect, and 
the war’s central issue was arguably a contested vision of national identity. 20 
It is no accident that the generation shaped by the war has authored sectarian 
histories. This is not to say that Bi'ayni seeks to privilege the Druze narra- 
tive above the Arab or Syro-Lebanese narrative. Rather, he seeks to stress the 
important contribution of the Druze to the independence struggle against 
the French. His works attempt to show that the Druze minority has made a 
valuable contribution to the history of the Syrian -Arab nation. In making his 
argument, however, Bi'ayni sometimes makes the larger Syrian-Arab nation 
disappear. He seems to argue that the Druze are the Syrian-Arab nation. In 
foregrounding the heroic actions of the Druze, Bi'ayni obscures the connec- 
tions that gave the revolt of 1925 its nationalist dimensions. 

Another notable sectarian history is that of Kais Firro. 21 Firro is an Israeli - 
Druze scholar. The Druze community in Israel is the main non-Jewish group 
not considered Arab by the government. Identity thus remains a conten- 
tious issue, particularly for Druze intellectuals like Firro. The Israeli state 
has largely succeeded in its Druze policy, while the French mandate failed. 
The French attempted to separate the Druze from the larger mandate Arab 
population, and the Great Revolt is proof that they failed. The Israeli state, 
by a more nuanced policy of enticements and a tacit, multitiered model of 
Israeli citizenship, succeeded in greater measure in separating the Druze from 

Contrasting Narratives 


the larger Palestinian Arab population. Still, the question of identity is not 
settled, as Firro makes clear. Like Bi'ayni, he considers the Druze part of 
the Arab nation. His detailed narrative history of the Druze is an impressive 
scholarly work. It chronicles the Druze in what became Syria, Lebanon, and 
Palestine, from earliest times until the 1950s. 

The emphasis on religious divisions and sectarian essentialism has a long 
history in much western scholarship on the Middle East. The earliest mem- 
oirs of the revolt, written as apologies by French officers who had been in- 
volved, stressed the impenetrable and ageless mix of sectarian fanaticism and 
backward feudalism that they claimed was the defining characteristic of the 
rebels. These men saw their careers as colonial functionaries in dire jeopardy 
and desperately sought to justify the colonial role and their actions to a skep- 
tical French public. In so doing, they utilized a whole palette of racist, orien- 
talist, and essentialist stereotypes. They sought to destroy and discredit any 
rationally understandable explanation for the uprising and to portray them- 
selves as the blameless couriers of civilization to uncomprehending and un- 
grateful savages. 22 Sectarian conflict was a theoretical necessity for French 
colonialism in Syria, since the entire colonial mission was based on the idea of 
protecting one sectarian community, the Maronite Christians, from the pre- 
dations of others. Without sectarian conflict, colonial justification evaporates. 

The difference between the viewpoint of mandate officials and former 
mandate citizens reveals an interesting contrast. With few exceptions, Syrian 
writers on the Great Revolt have been self-conscious and forthright about 
the assumptions and political commitments that their work aims to advance. 
The European chroniclers of France’s mandate spoke from a position of au- 
thority that required no justification or examination. They neither mentioned 
nor examined their assumptions and political commitments but usually veiled 
them behind a screen of self-described “objectivity.” It should not be a sur- 
prise that the works of those who sought to advance a privileged argument for 
European supremacy over the rest of the world have worn less well over the 
decades than the works of those who spoke forthrightly for resistance against 
that same supremacy. It is deeply unfortunate, however, that the lesson has 
not been learned. Americans and Europeans still publish books and articles 
about postcolonial countries that advance the shopworn theories of their colo- 
nial forebears. Many still insist on their objectivity and fitness to define, and 
indeed to rule, the rest of the world. 

Two texts in English stand above all others for the history of Syria dur- 
ing the mandate and beyond: the encyclopedic works of Philip Khoury and 
Hanna Batatu. 23 Both of these books achieve a level of comprehensive narra- 



tive detail that will probably never be matched. They utilized a wide range of 
normative sources, including extensive interviews with elderly Syrians who 
played key roles in modern history. Many of these people have since died. De- 
spite their richness of detail, both works are concerned ultimately with urban 
elite politics. Khoury makes a path-breaking contribution to understanding 
the machinations of traditional urban elites in interwar nationalist politics. 
Batatu, by contrast, seeks to explain how members of a rural sectarian commu- 
nity became the new postindependence urban elite and ruling class. Khoury 
devotes four chapters to the Great Revolt. He treats the mandate period from 
1920 to 1945, and the revolt specifically, from the perspective of changes in the 
“politics of notables.” Ultimately, Khoury accepts and reproduces the claims 
of hegemonic representation made by the mandate and postindependence 
nationalist elite, who viewed themselves as the uncontested representatives of 
the nation. 24 

Batatu rightly seeks the roots of today’s Syrian regime in the country- 
side. For Khoury, the rural-urban connection is fairly undefined, though he 
clearly acknowledges its importance, while Batatu subjects the relationship 
between urban and rural regions to broad thematic generalizations that can- 
not be sustained from region to region. He writes in detail about the origins 
and conditions of the various peasant communities in Syria, in explaining the 
rise of the Asad regime. He has little to say, however, about their historical 
relations with one another or with the cities. Batatu’s analysis of the rise of 
Hafiz al-Asad from a humble mountain village is unlikely to be matched. But 
when he generalizes about the condition of all Syrian mountain regions and 
the people who lived there, he is on shakier ground. For while the Alawi sect 
(from which Asad came) and the Druze sect (from which many of the Great 
Revolt’s fighters came) share apparently esoteric religious beliefs, mountain- 
ous native regions, and a tradition of rebellion, they share few other elements. 
There were vast differences in ownership of land, in social and economic re- 
lations, and particularly in commercial and social integration with the sur- 
rounding regions. The ‘Alawi mountains were historically far more isolated 
than the southern regions, and their development and social conditions re- 
flect this difference. 

The emergence of nationalism in Greater Syria has also received much 
scholarly attention. This is part of the aim of Khoury ’s book on the mandate 
and is central to his earlier book. 25 Others have also devoted much attention 
to the rise of nationalism; while they have made unprecedented contribu- 
tions, none has dealt with nationalism in the city and the countryside. 26 Many 
other scholars have devoted the major part of their research to the rise of 

Contrasting Narratives 


Arab nationalism, and yet they have all concentrated on urban nationalism— 
usually among a narrow elite of notables and intellectuals— and ignored the 
countryside . 27 The gap is difficult to understand, since during the mandate 
the population of Syria’s three biggest towns (Damascus, Aleppo, and Hums) 
was never more than 20 percent of the total population . 28 Additionally, there 
is no doubt that the countryside was always of supreme importance for urban 
dwellers, as a source of wealth for the notability and as the provider of food 
for the entire urban population. Until quite recently, agriculture and pastoral- 
ism were the bases of most of the country’s wealth, whether in grain, woolen 
and cotton textiles, or olive oil and its products. Finally, as Hanna Batatu and 
others have noted, the entire government power structure of today’s Syria is 
composed of people of rural origin. The late Syrian president Hafiz al-Asad 
made frequent reference to his peasant background . 29 The dearth of studies 
on the rural regions is thus all the more inexplicable since, unlike most other 
examples of anticolonial nationalist struggles, the countryside ultimately pre- 
vailed over the urban leadership to dominate the postindependence govern- 

The existing histories reflect the deep misgivings and biases of urban 
dwellers regarding the countryside. Scholars, whatever their origin, are usu- 
ally members of an urban elite and naturally focus their attention on people 
that they can identify with and relate to. The lack of rural studies also reflects 
the usual dearth and difficulty of access to sources for rural history and the 
comparative wealth and ease of access to sources for urban areas. Given the 
importance of the southern countryside in the economy of Damascus and 
the central position of the Great Revolt in modern Syrian history, neither 
of these problems applies. The local sources, the memoir accounts, and par- 
ticularly the French archives are extraordinarily rich for the Great Revolt and 
southern Syria. 

No study has traced the relationships between rural and urban regions and 
their influence on nationalist politics from the Ottoman period into the man- 
date. This book examines these relationships. It makes connections between 
events and social conditions that have not been made in print before. The po- 
litical economy of grain production and the resultant social and commercial 
interactions made possible broad resistance to the colonial state and the rise of 
nationalism in the countryside. The spread of state-subsidized military edu- 
cation in the late Ottoman period likewise fostered popular nationalism and 
resistance. The uprising is thus illustrative of several previously neglected his- 
torical processes, including rural-urban integration, the rise of new merchant 
and professional military classes, and— related to both of these and perhaps 



most importantly— the emergence of popular Syrian-Arab nationalist iden- 


Over twenty years ago Benedict Anderson published a widely influential book 
titled Imagined Communities. Anderson argued that intellectuals and various 
historical forces had created an illusion of simultaneous common experience 
from which people could imagine themselves part of a vast national com- 
munity Anderson was marginally more charitable toward the aspirations of 
recently imagined national communities than other theorists of nationalism 
had been. For example, in a book of almost equally wide influence, Eric Hobs- 
bawm argued by implication that the nation-state, which in his conception 
was the only basis for national identity, was not only an imagined commu- 
nity but actually an imaginary community, destined in the future to disappear 
as a focal point of human consciousness. Hobsbawm, one of the twentieth 
century’s greatest historians, thereby not only casually dismissed the national 
aspirations and consciousness of Palestinians, Kurds, and numerous stateless 
others but dismissed as essentially meaningless, or at least tragically point- 
less, the sacrifices of millions of dead in formerly colonized countries all over 
the world. Both Hobsbawm and especially Anderson conceived nationalism 
as a vaguely central European phenomenon imported to the colonial world in 
modular packages, to be selected or rejected but rarely reshaped in any sub- 
stantial way. I would argue that each was gravely, though perhaps only infer- 
entially, influenced by the still looming specter of the European wars of the 
twentieth century . 30 

Partha Chatterjee points out the central problem with all this: “If nation- 
alisms in the rest of the world have to choose their imagined community from 
certain ‘modular’ forms already made available to them by Europe and the 
Americas, what do they have left to imagine ?” 31 The question is appropri- 
ate: although Europeans and Americans certainly took nationalism seriously 
while they fought bloody wars over it, these theorists of nationalism seem 
to say, today thinking people the world over ought to abandon the concept 
of national identity altogether. This stance is notably uncharitable to many 
outside Western Europe and North America who find their national commu- 
nities— imagined or not, but certainly not imaginary— quite literally under 
siege from all sides. 

Chatterjee and earlier theorists of anticolonial nationalism, like Frantz 
Fanon, provide insights with which to consider anticolonial and nationalist 

Theorizing Insurgent and National Consciousness 


resistance. Both Chatterjee and Fanon examine in detail the various commu- 
nities and classes that make up the colonial nation-state. Chatterjee writes of 
the need for a pluralist “fragmentary” view of the nation from the perspec- 
tive of India of the 1990s. Fanon, by contrast, writes from the perspective of 
the Algerian war of independence, which he joined after the French govern- 
ment sent him to serve in a hospital in Algeria. 32 Both are useful in making 
sense of nationalism and resistance in Syria. 

The Syrian revolt was a catalyst for the formation of popular notions of 
Syrian-Arab identity. People who perhaps had not thought much about being 
part of a larger national community willfully entered a desperate struggle 
against a clearly, but negatively, defined enemy. When rebels and insurgents 
conceived notions of their “imagined community,” the conception was theirs; 
they did not borrow it from someone else, or take it from a book, or adopt 
one of the modular theories of national identity current today. They imag- 
ined it themselves, in negative relation to the colonial occupier. In this pro- 
cess of imagining, they incorporated elements that made sense to, and co- 
existed with, their existing ideas of self. Because new notions of identity were 
historically and culturally subjective, they differed from place to place, along 
with different local histories. Such notions of identity resist easy categoriza- 
tion and generalization. 33 

A hypothetical example of how identity can shift, form, and re-form may 
be useful. While a peasant insurgent from a given village might identify her- 
self as an inhabitant of village X, member of family Y, Muslim, Syrian, Arab, 
woman, another insurgent might identify himself as a resident of city quar- 
ter A, member of family B, Druze, Syrian, Arab, man. These different facets 
of identity coexist, mingle, and overlap, depending on context and situation. 
There is no easily discernible natural hierarchy among one’s facets of iden- 
tity. And yet, when people who have only one or more facet in common face 
an enemy that is clearly an “Other” (such as a colonial military power), a new 
facet can emerge, or a preexisting facet may be pushed to the foreground, 
as a basis for collective action. When these two hypothetical insurgents join 
together to resist a colonial oppressor, for example, they do not hold identi- 
cal conceptions of their national identity. The way one conceives or imagines 
the community obviously differs from person to person. But it is the common 
notion of membership that is important, not the common understanding of 
what membership means. At moments of intense collective crisis, this notion 
of common membership can expand dramatically, almost overnight, and erase 
or subordinate differences between members of a single national community. 
The Syrian revolt of 1925 was such a moment of crisis. 34 



Notions of popular identity and consciousness are notoriously difficult 
to quantify and analyze. Intellectuals leave letters, newspaper editorials, and 
memoirs. They often articulate their ideas and ideologies with attractive con- 
sistency and theoretical neatness. Subaltern historical actors leave few of these 
traces and must be known by the symbolic content of their actions and the 
efforts of their enemies to suppress both their resistance and their collective 
consciousness. Their actions are often characterized by seeming ambiguity 
and historical opacity. Seen through the lens of intellectual history, subaltern 
consciousness offers little consistency or theoretical neatness. Histories of re- 
sistance to mandate rule have long been dominated by detailed accounts of 
urban notables and their intellectual production. I argue here that the near- 
total emphasis on notables and elite nationalists in this period has obscured 
the very significant contributions of Syria’s non-elite populations to resistance 
against the mandate. It follows, then, that this book cannot and will not uti- 
lize the methods of conventional elite history. Subaltern history and popular 
consciousness can only be represented by a detailed emphasis on the actions 
of subalterns. Those who tacitly insist that the existence of subaltern national 
consciousness must conform to elite models will be apt to deny the existence 
of such consciousness altogether. Orderly categories and tidy theories exist 
principally in the minds and representations of intellectuals, whether elite 
nationalists or their chroniclers. I resist the urge to impose order where little 
was evident and to tidy the ragged edges of a truly vital and uncompromised 
example of subaltern resistance. Following Partha Chatterjee and others, this 
book emphasizes and identifies the strengths of the ambiguous, the fragmen- 
tary, and the theoretically untidy. 

The insurgents clearly agreed on a few things. The leading rebels did 
not acknowledge the partition of Greater Syria into separate European-ruled 
colonial states. They freely crossed borders and maintained ties in different 
areas under European mandate. Many later fled to Transjordan and fought 
in British-ruled Palestine. The majority of the documents that they left 
were tactical rather than ideological or strategic. Those few documents that 
touched upon ideology, however, consistently criticized the partition of Otto- 
man Greater Syria and demonstrated that the independence and reunification 
of those lands was the revolt’s ultimate goal. There was broad agreement that 
Greater Syria constituted a single geographical entity. Furthermore, most of 
the insurgents, both leaders and anonymous fighters, came from rural areas 
and popular urban quarters. Their dress, their actions, and their language tes- 
tify to the existence of a common rural Arab culture, centering on ideals of 
bravery, honor, and common historical memory. 




The French Diplomatic Archives in Nantes contain the full documentary 
record of the French mandate in Syria and Lebanon. 35 During the period of 
the revolt, the mandate Service des Renseignements (Intelligence Service) 
compiled daily intelligence bulletins. The bulletins often ran to twenty or 
thirty pages and covered all events known to the colonial authority in the 
mandated territory. They included spy reports and the minutes of meetings 
held by political parties and rebel groups. Within the reports were copies, 
and often originals, of thousands of intercepted rebel letters and documents. 
There were reports on the Syrian and foreign press, accounts of battles, and 
daily reports on each region, including road conditions, rumors, and mili- 
tary operations. Additionally, the archives contain secret special reports on 
negotiations, submissions to the mandate power, and prisoners, including full 
court case transcripts, lists of condemned rebels, and transcripts of interviews 
with captured rebels, as well as private letters between mandate officials and 
hundreds of pages of intercepted secret British documents that are not in the 
British Public Records Office. This book draws on 5,000 pages of reports 
covering the years 1924-1927, few of which have ever been utilized for a his- 
tory of the revolt. 

The mandate archives provide an intimate day-to-day portrait of the 
French mandate in Syria. But they contain more than a daily record of the 
repressive apparatus of colonial rule; they also offer the most comprehensive 
record available of resistance to colonial rule. They are a chronicle of both 
domination and resistance. In his classic study of rural insurgency in India, 
Ranajit Guha argues that the collective consciousness of an insurgency is 
inscribed in negative outlines in the consciousness (and the archives) of its 
enemies . 36 He contends that insurgency leaves an imprint, a mirror image in 
negative, on the bureaucratic records of those who seek to dominate it. Just 
as a glass window smashed by a fist leaves traces on the hand that shattered 
it, so too must those that the mandatory power sought to control and domi- 
nate leave traces of their consciousness on its bureaucratic records. 

Not all records documented state repression. The Ottoman state ruled 
Greater Syria for 400 years, until 1918. Ottoman subjects understood the legal 
foundations of the state. The sultan was theoretically obligated to insure jus- 
tice and remain accessible to his subjects. Residents of the most humble vil- 
lage would not hesitate to petition the highest offices of the state to complain 
about taxes or corrupt officials. Local communities recorded their dealings 
with their neighbors by written contracts. The sale of agricultural produce 



was based on annual contracts, which were sometimes written. Marriage con- 
tracts were almost always written. Land sales yielded contracts. Payment of 
taxes left a receipt. I have utilized hundreds of such documents to trace the 
contours and relations of rural life for the period beginning in i860. 37 

Many of the participants in the revolt were members of what Hanna 
Batatu called the lesser rural notability. Sultan al-Atrash was a member of 
such a family. These people were literate and more than a few left memoirs, 
which are valuable and historically unprecedented. They were the mukhtan, 
or shaykhs of their villages, or perhaps the sons of such men. They might be 
the largest landholder in a village of small holders. Some were landlords over 
leased or sharecropped agricultural land. Some had received Ottoman state 
education, perhaps locally or in the Damascus military preparatory school or 
even in Istanbul. The early twentieth century was the first time such people 
wrote down their experiences in the Middle East. 38 Memoirs cover battles 
against the French and sometimes political battles between the insurgent 
leaders. These sources describe in detail events that were apparently unknown 
to French intelligence. While French sources provide powerful evidence of 
rebel unity and cooperation, insurgent sources indicate the tensions and the 
costs of maintaining unity. Memoirs furnish a contrast between what the in- 
surgents said about themselves and about each other and what their enemies 
said about them. 

The final major source is the press. Despite censorship and frequent clo- 
sures, Damascus, like many other cities, was served by a more lively press in 
1925 than today. The largest-circulation Damascus daily, al-Muqtabas, had an 
unabashedly nationalist viewpoint; the mandate authority shut it down and 
jailed its editor, Najib al-Rayyis, between mid-August and November 1925 
and then again in December 1925. There were usually several other news- 
papers in print in Damascus, though the mandate High Commission com- 
pletely subsidized a few of them. Sometimes it closed those papers too! The 
press, both within and outside Syria, is thus an important source. The Paris 
and London papers are also valuable and contain fiery debates on the uprising 
and European mandatory occupation. The revolt figured prominently in the 
Palestinian and Egyptian press too. 39 While the British censored the press 
in their colonies less vigorously than did the French, the French encouraged 
anti-British editorials in the Syrian and Lebanese press just as the British en- 
couraged anti-French editorials in the Egyptian, Transjordanian, and Pales- 
tinian press. 

The Great Syrian Revolt was not an overtly successful example of anti- 
colonial resistance. The revolt did not succeed in ridding Syria of the mandate 



or even in changing the ruling structure of society; the mandate lasted an- 
other twenty years, and those at the highest reaches of Damascene and na- 
tional politics were unassailable until after independence. The revolt proved 
to the mandate power that it needed Syria’s elites, and, to a certain extent, 
Syria’s elites needed the mandate power. Many who took part in the uprising 
were killed or exiled from Syria until the late 1930s. The failure of the revolt 
removed them from political contention. The mandate power and leading 
Damascus politicians could ignore the exiled insurgents and their uncompro- 
mising nationalist visions for more than a decade. Despite its ultimate failure, 
however, the revolt had the lasting effect of permanently drawing disparate 
regions together under the idea of a Syrian-Arab nation. In spite of the de- 
termined efforts of the mandate power to divide Syrian society permanently, 
the revolt helped allow Syrians to imagine themselves as a unified nation. 

The Great Revolt is significant for more than the emergence of popular 
nationalism. Many of the historical trends, conflicts, and fissures that have 
characterized postcolonial Arab politics first emerged during the uprising. 
Former military officers of mostly modest background challenged older, more 
prominent, and more conservative notables and their claims to lead the na- 
tion. New nationalist classes communicated in the language of their origins 
and led an expansion and a radicalization of politics, which was initially short- 
lived but which eventually became the dominant political discourse. Years 
later radical nationalists of the Ba'th and other Syrian parties took the mili- 
tants of the Great Revolt as their examples, rather than the notable politicians 
of the postrevolt era to whom they were opposed. Resistance against occupa- 
tion remains a potent theme in the Middle East. 

The uprising is also important because it signifies the first skirmish of 
a struggle for leadership in Syria between old urban notables and new rural 
elites. In Turkey, in Syria, in Egypt, and in Iraq provincial and rural notables 
ultimately replaced the old Ottoman urban notability in the halls of national 
power. In every instance this transformation occurred when new classes over- 
turned old classes, usually through the upward mobility provided to them in 
the army. The revolt of 1925 figures as a formative event in modern Arab his- 
tory of great and generally unrecognized significance. It defined the contours 
of future political and class contestation. 

The significance of the uprising was clear to its participants at the time. 
The French almost immediately pardoned its most wealthy and prominent 
leaders. The mandate government realized the importance of fostering a class 
of accommodationist notables. All could be forgiven for those with a ma- 
terial and social stake in a system of accommodation with the mandate power. 



Nationalist members of this class, dominated by absentee landlords of Da- 
mascus and the other cities, also understood the stakes. They determinedly 
and resolutely facilitated the mandate authority’s desire to deny radical revolt 
veterans any role in Syrian politics. The rebels realized that they had been 
fully marginalized by exile and by the efforts of their former allies too. Most 
were exiled from Syria for a decade. Some, killed in revolts in Palestine or 
Iraq, never returned. 

The revolt remains significant for one final and tragic reason. The de- 
struction visited on Syria’s cities, towns, and villages was unprecedented. The 
mandate government, sworn to advance the interests and development of the 
mandatory population, used collective punishment of entire towns— includ- 
ing wholesale executions, house demolitions, utilization of tanks and armored 
vehicles in urban neighborhoods, population transfers from region to region, 
and round-the-clock aerial and artillery bombardment of civilian populations 
— to pacify the territory under mandate. While these ghastly methods have 
continued to characterize conflict in the Middle East and elsewhere, it was 
the distinction of the mandatory government of France to have used them 


The Hawran Frontier 

O n 19 July 1925 Druze farmers shot down a French surveillance airplane 
circling above their mountain home, Jabal Hawran, some 100 kilo- 
meters south of Damascus. 1 These were the first shots of a revolt that 
would last two years, beginning and ending in Jabal Hawran. On the same 
day Druze rebels attacked French troops in the Jabal. The next day Sultan 
al-Atrash led fighters in the occupation of Salkhad, the second town of the 
Jabal, south of Suwayda’, the provincial capital. 2 A local uprising, in response 
to local conditions, had begun. But while local conditions had sown the seeds 
of revolt in Jabal Hawran, the revolt would not remain local; it would soon 
involve all of mandate Syria and most of Greater Lebanon. 

The Great Syrian Revolt had deep roots in southern Syria. The origins 
of the uprising, its spread, and the nationalist language that characterized 
it are thoroughly interwoven in the histories of the people and regions that 
took part. Just as the social and economic relations between those who sup- 
ported the uprising predate the French mandate in Syria, the mistrust, suspi- 
cion, and animosities that kept some communities apart from the revolt have 
a history too. The summer of 1925 was the nadir of several years of increas- 
ingly dire crisis. Inflation squeezed people’s income and savings as the Syrian 
pound, pegged to the French franc, dropped with the French currency. Mer- 
chants, and even the mandate government, demanded Ottoman gold pounds 
for goods and tax payments. Drought had gripped southern Syria for three 
or four years. Harvests had declined for several years running, while the tax 
burden on cultivators had risen. Heavy-handed direct military rule nurtured 
rising nationalist and anti-imperialist feeling among the mandate popula- 
tions. A mass uprising against French rule was never preordained, but the 
perceived illegality and illegitimacy of French colonial rule, coupled with bru- 
tality and administrative incompetence, was certain to irritate many of Syria’s 

When mass armed resistance emerged, French authorities explained it 
away and justified their own behavior by ascribing resistance to the power 
struggles between a small group of retrograde “feudal” chiefs who objected to 

Mandate border 



S* Tripoli 



1 ~t>j....---Ma‘alula . 




| Dummar^^ Duma 

Shaykh MiskinF = 7 = *^> Mazraa 

/ ^VSuwayda’ 

: \JQ3ar‘a \ 

W Busra" 

' al-Sham 



| Salt . 



. Azraq 


Wadi al-Sirhan ■ 
37 ’ 

figure 2 . Map of Hawran and Damascus 

Settling the Frontier 


the enlightened reforms that mandate rule brought. When resistance spread 
to the rest of southern Syria, the mandate power characterized all who re- 
sisted as “Druze feudalists,” “bandits,” or “extremists.” Mandate authorities 
explained that those who resisted opposed progress and sought to defend feu- 
dalism. Some were said to be driven by anti-Christian fanaticism, despite the 
inconvenient fact that Christians participated in the uprising too. Authorities 
claimed that many simply sought an excuse for plunder. None of the man- 
date’s functionaries and chroniclers could bring themselves to admit the exis- 
tence of a broad anti-imperialist and nationalist movement against French 
rule. The uprising was always the “Druze Revolt,” invariably accompanied by 
a reference to the “warlike feudal mountaineers.” Few scholars today would 
use words like “bandit” or “extremist” to describe insurgents against colonial 
rule, though “terrorist” is perhaps one equivalent. But Druze feudalism has 
somehow survived, uncritiqued, unexamined, and accepted by all, including 
many Druze historians themselves. 3 

The economic and social relationships that facilitated the revolt have a 
history, just as the notion of Druze feudal society has a history. Neither has 
ever been examined. Hawran Druze feudalism sprang fully formed from the 
minds of French military officers. It was a montage of popular conceptions 
of European feudalism mixed with the imperfect understandings of the far 
more rigidly hierarchical society of Mount Lebanon. The economic and so- 
cial relations of southern Syria changed over decades, developed by inter- 
actions between the inhabitants of the region and sometimes by their rela- 
tions with the state. This chapter examines these interactions. I wish to show, 
first, that— due to the efforts of Druze shaykhs and Damascene merchants— 
southern Syria was well integrated into the economic and social life of Da- 
mascus. Second, I seek to argue that the expanding economy and new edu- 
cational institutions of the Ottoman state served to foster a new social class, 
which could mount a nationalist, but not elite, challenge to the postwar colo- 
nial power more comprehensively than the Ottoman state had ever been chal- 
lenged. Finally, I wish to demonstrate that Druze feudalism is a mirage, a 
convincing and durable fake, invented to justify and render coherent a colo- 
nial project of military domination. 


Jabal Hawran rises from the eastern plain of Hawran southeast of Damascus. 
The plain is vast and fertile and stretches 150 kilometers south from Damas- 
cus into what is today Jordan. In most years of good rain, it is covered by a sea 

3 ° 

The Hawran Frontier 

of wheat from early spring to midsummer. It is bordered on the west by the 
southern end of the Anti-Lebanon mountain range, the Jawlan (Golan), and 
the often snowy peaks of Jabal al-Shaykh (Mount Hermon). It is bordered 
on the east by the Syrian desert, the gentle slopes of Jabal Hawran, and the 
volcanic badlands of the Laja’a. 

The mountain is hard black basalt with dark and rich topsoil of decom- 
posed basalt. Since Roman times basalt had been the building material of 
choice, and many of the houses and entire villages that the Druze migrants 
resettled were already many hundreds of years old. They moved into old vil- 
lages and built new villages on stony spurs of the mountain— their houses, 
walls, and animal pens all made from the same black stone. The streets were 
narrow, the walls high, and the houses close together. Before the large Druze 
migrations of the 1860s, Hawran peasants and local bedouin lived in some 
of the mountain villages, often only seasonally. As the Druze migrants in- 
creased, they forced aside the villagers and bedouin and cleared more fields 
of the innumerable basalt rocks and boulders strewn all over the mountain. 
The basalt made fine material for building new houses as their community 
expanded and for building even better village fortifications than the heights 
of the mountain naturally provided. 

Jabal Hawran was a safe place for the Druze. Competition for arable land 
had driven many from Mount Lebanon. Others had come from Palestine 
or northern Syria. As a small minority, practicing a secretive religion, they 
perched insecurely on the fringe of the wider Islamic society. Some among the 
Sunni Muslim majority saw the Druze as heretics, and the doctrinaire Sunni 
Ottoman state had periodically persecuted them. For security and freedom 
from persecution, they gravitated to remote rural regions far from the cen- 
ters of state power. While their communities were larger in other parts of the 
Arab East, Druze peasants had inhabited parts of Jabal Hawran since the 
seventeenth century. 

But it was only after the large migrations of the mid-nineteenth century 
that the Druze came to dominate. The largest Druze community in Greater 
Syria was 150 kilometers west of Jabal Hawran in the high coastal mountain 
range of Mount Lebanon. In i860 the Druze of Mount Lebanon fought a 
civil war with their mountain neighbors, the Maronite Christians. Foreign 
powers, particularly the French and British, were deeply involved in the con- 
flict. Although the Druze defeated the Maronites in Mount Lebanon, the 
Ottoman state, seeking to avoid further conflict and the threat of even more 
European interference, authorized a French/Ottoman force to invade Mount 
Lebanon and protect the Maronites from the Druze. The Maronites had long 

Settling the Frontier 


been unofficial French clients; and they served throughout the nineteenth and 
twentieth centuries as a “vital interest,” justifying French involvement in the 
affairs of the Ottoman state and Greater Syria. The French intervention in 
i860 panicked the Druze inhabitants of Mount Lebanon, and in the period 
of a month several thousand fled for Jabal Hawran. The migration continued 
after the end of the war, throughout the 1860s. 4 

When the Druze arrived in Jabal Hawran, they found an environment 
vastly different from what they had known in Mount Lebanon. Climate and 
topography were the first immediate differences. Mount Lebanon was truly 
mountainous, and rainfall was abundant. Tiny plots precipitously terraced 
on the mountains could sustain a family, due to fine soil and plenty of rain. 
Land was scarce and population density was high, but the land produced high 
yields. Jabal Hawran, by contrast, was steppe, nearly desert in some years; and 
though land was abundant and fertile, rainfall was always scarce. The most 
generously watered areas of the Jabal never received more than 350 mm in a 
year, and most areas received much less. Surface water was nearly nonexistent, 
and the rainfall the mountain did receive ended up under the basalt layer and 
flowed downhill underground to sustain Lake Tiberias and the aquifer under 
the oasis of Damascus. 

Social life was different too. Mount Lebanon was dominated by noble 
families, both Druze and Maronite, and the peasants who worked the land 
for the noble families had much more in common with other peasants than 
with their landlords. Socially and culturally, the two sectarian communities in 
Mount Lebanon were very close. Their social practices were similar, and each 
community was characterized by a rigid and impermeable social hierarchy be- 
tween peasants and their landlords. Dress, food, social customs, and farming 
methods were all similar between the Maronites and the Druze. As a migrant 
population in a frontier region populated by nomads and seminomadic peas- 
ants, the Druze in Jabal Hawran found themselves in a much different social 
and cultural environment than Mount Lebanon. Rather than living side by 
side with the Maronites, the Druze community there lived side by side with 
the bedouin and the Jabal Hawran villagers, who were mostly of Christian 
and settled bedouin origin. Outside forces and influences were much less im- 
portant; and the European powers, and even the Ottoman state, interfered 
comparatively little in life in Hawran. 

The Druze in Jabal Hawran dressed like bedouin, ate the same food, and 
followed similar social customs of clan honor and hospitality. In the course 
of the nineteenth century, as the number of migrants increased, the Druze 
and the small local bedouin tribes fought one another bitterly for domina- 


The Hawran Frontier 

~ k ri 

figure 3. Hawran village street scene. Courtesy Middle East Documentation 
Center, University of Chicago Library. 

tion of the mountain. In the 1860s and 1870s, as the Druze became stronger 
and more numerous, they decisively defeated the local bedouin and forged 
new relationships, based on defensive alliances and commercial agreements. 
As Druze peasants settled more villages and put more and more land under 
the plow, local bedouin lost pastureland. But the bedouin gained allies against 
other tribes; and when the grain harvest was finished in the crucial midsum- 
mer months, they grazed their flocks on the stubble left on the fields. As the 
production of grain rose with the increase of Druze migrants, the bedouin 
prospered too by providing camel transport to Damascus and Haifa for the 
grain trade. 

In Jabal Hawran during the nineteenth century it was labor and not land 
that was in short supply. Villagers arrived from Lebanon or elsewhere and 
went to a village where they had relatives or friends. If a new migrant had 
money or draft animals, or sons who could add to the defensive capabilities of 
the village, he would buy (or often be given) a house and shares in the com- 
munal (musha ) land of the village. 5 All those who owned land or shares were 
fallahin. If a migrant did not have money or animals, or other socially desir- 
able attributes, he would contract to cultivate land belonging to someone else. 
The common arrangement was called al-rabi, “a fourth,” which denoted the 
share the laborer received. The contractor was called al-murabi , and landless 
laborers in general were called falatiyya. The land he worked under contract 
might belong to the shaykh of the village, or to a wealthier peasant who had 

Rural Autonomy and Commercial Integration 


too much land for his family alone to work, or to an old person who was unable 
to do the hard work of cultivation. The landlord provided everything neces- 
sary for farming: seed, tools, and animals. If the laborer had a house in the 
village, he would stay there; if not, the landlord provided modest room and 
board. Life for the new migrants was difficult, and the work of farming usually 
began with the back-breaking labor of clearing large stones before plowing. 

Still, there was much to recommend life in Jabal Hawran. The social hier- 
archy was much less rigid than in Mount Lebanon, and the goal of most 
peasant farmers and recent migrants was to purchase communal land in the 
village and become a small proprietor. It bears mention that landless peas- 
ants were always a minority among villagers, and sharecropping arrangements 
probably only emerged in the second half of the nineteenth century. 6 Statis- 
tics from the mandate era show that most were successful in this goal of ac- 
quiring land, since ownership was more widespread in Jabal Hawran and the 
plain of Hawran than in any other part of mandate Syria. 7 Plot size was also 
smaller than in any other part of the territory under mandate. In any case, 
there was nothing apart from the renewable al-rdbi c contract, and whatever 
social ties that may have existed, to keep a peasant from moving on to a new 
village if land or opportunities were better. 

There were no absentee landlords in Jabal Hawran. Shaykhs lived in their 
villages and worked their own fields. The shaykh of each village was usually 
merely the first to settle a village and reach an agreement with, or perhaps sub- 
jugate, its previous inhabitants. Sons and dependent young men of fighting 
age were important in claiming a village . The ability to attract young migrants 
to a village was part of a village shaykh’s fitness to lead the village and repre- 
sent it to the outside. Strength of arms was the actual foundation of local au- 
thority in the frontier society, and villages that were secure and well defended 
from raids by bedouin and others attracted more migrants. The stronger the 
shaykh of a village, the more favorable the terms he was able to negotiate with 
local bedouin, with other villages, with outside merchants, and with the state. 
A copious literature has ascribed the fabled ferocity of the Druze in Lebanon, 
Palestine, and Jabal Hawran to their sectarian solidarity. In Jabal Hawran, 
however, the fact of relative social equality far better explains their ability to 
unite in the face of outside threats to a way of life evidently worth fighting for. 


During the 1860s the situation in Jabal Hawran changed radically. After eking 
out a marginal existence on the frontier between the settled and nomadic re- 


The Hawran Frontier 

gions, the Druze came to be the masters of the mountain and later the masters 
of the Hawran. Several elements facilitated this change. First was popula- 
tion expansion, already discussed above. Second was the growth of local and 
world markets for agricultural products. Last was the emergence of a new, 
self-confident, and aggressive chiefly family, anxious to carve out a more im- 
portant local role. 

The Hawran had produced grain for much of Greater Syria and Arabia 
since Roman times. The production of cereals and settled agriculture had been 
stagnant in Hawran for at least two hundred years in the mid-nineteenth 
century. 8 The Ottoman state did not possess the resources or the will to en- 
sure rural security in Hawrani agricultural villages. Peasants became semino- 
madic, moving to the cities or to more secure areas like central Syria around 
Hums and Hamah. In these regions entire districts, comprising scores of vil- 
lages, were owned by the Damascene and Hamawi landed notability. In cen- 
tral Syria peasants found greater security but were forced to withstand rapa- 
cious absentee landlords and the efficient exactions of the state, which the 
urban landlords themselves often represented. 

The 1860s, in contrast with previous centuries, were a time of boom- 
ing migration and booming agricultural export markets in Hawran. As the 
Druze migrants settled and pacified first Jabal Hawran and then the plain, 
they began to take advantage of this market. The migrants knew the impor- 
tance of exports from their experience in the silk business in Mount Leba- 
non. Mulberry trees, silk worms, and silk cocoon production were impossible 
to sustain in the relatively arid climate of Jabal Hawran, but the migrants 
were adaptable and learned from their neighbors how to grow the hardy and 
drought-resistant native Hawrani wheat. Damascus, Beirut, and Haifa were 
ready outlets for their grain, and the more enterprising shaykhs opened com- 
mercial relations on behalf of their villages with merchants from those cities, 
particularly Damascus. 9 

Wheat exports from Jabal Hawran and the Hawran plain expanded tre- 
mendously in the second half of the century. But more than market and demo- 
graphic forces drove the expansion. In mid-century a new chiefly family, the 
Atrash (plural Turshan), emerged into prominence in Jabal Hawran. The first 
famous leader of the Atrash family, Isma'il al-Atrash, completely changed 
the balance of power throughout the Hawran. Isma'il managed first to bring 
the local bedouin under his control and actually reverse the payment of trib- 
ute or protection money (khawa), which the Druze had previously paid to the 
tribes. 10 Under Isma'il the bedouin began to pay tribute money to the Druze 
for pasture and water. He then attacked and subjugated the formerly domi- 

Rural Autonomy and Commercial Integration 


nant Druze clans, wresting supremacy of the mountain from them. He also 
attempted, with intermittent success, to extend his control over the Muslim 
and Christian villages of the plain, forcing them to pay protection money and 
acting as contract agent for their state taxes and for their grain crop with out- 
side merchants. 

The leading Druze shaykhs felt that they had earned the right to domi- 
nate the mountain and the plain. The Ottoman governors of Damascus and 
the great landed notables of that city usually disagreed. While the state cov- 
eted greater revenues, and the Damascene notability coveted the rich and 
suddenly prosperous agricultural land of Hawran, Druze martial strength 
meant that there was usually little they could do to challenge local autonomy 
and Druze domination. Negotiating from a position of strength, the Atrash 
shaykhs formed commercial bonds with newly prominent Damascene com- 
mercial families and avoided business relations with the leading notable 
families. Damascene notable families derived wealth and prominence from 
positions in the Ottoman bureaucracy and the ownership of vast tracts of 
agricultural land, both of which made them potentially dangerous to Druze 
domination of Hawran. The merchants that the Druze shaykhs chose to deal 
with were always from the Maydan quarter, the neighborhood outside Da- 
mascus’ walls, which stretched along the road south to Hawran and the Ara- 
bian Peninsula beyond. While these men were often prosperous merchants, 
they were not part of the Ottoman service or landholding elite. The mer- 
chants loaned money to both shaykhs and peasants and contracted to buy the 
summer wheat crop and other crops consumed locally and exported in smaller 
quantities, such as chickpeas, grapes, and olives. 

These commercial agreements yielded long-term relationships, which fa- 
cilitated the integration of the Hawran Druze into Damascene cultural and 
political life. The other rural sectarian minorities of Greater Syria— the Ala- 
wis, the Isma'ilis, and the Shfis of southern Mount Lebanon — did not begin 
this process of integration with the urban centers until the 1940s. Even more 
important, the Druze shaykhs dealt with Damascus on their own terms. 
While Damascene merchants went to villages in Hawran and Ghuta, usuri- 
ous loan contracts in hand, and extracted newly issued Ottoman title deeds 
from peasants as collateral, the grain merchant families who dealt with the 
Druze negotiated only with the village shaykhs, who expected to receive fair 
treatment and who bargained from a position of relative equality with the 
merchants. 11 Druze villagers held their shaykhs responsible for good inter- 
est rates and good crop prices. Maydani grain merchant families and Druze 
families thus formed relationships that lasted decades or even generations. 


The Hawran Frontier 

Among the merchants of the Maydan active in this trade were the Muslim 
Mahayni, Sukkar, and Bitar families and the Christian ‘Aflaq and Shuwayri 
families. These merchants built summerhouses in Druze villages and supplied 
lodging and connections for their customers in Damascus. The sons of Druze 
shaykhs sometimes lived with the families of their fathers’ business partners 
in Damascus while they attended school . 12 

Life was different for Christian and Muslim Hawrani villages. They did 
not enjoy such equal relations with the Druze shaykhs who dominated their 
villages. While Druze protection and domination might be nominally prefer- 
able to the mercies of the bedouin, the rapaciousness of the Ottoman state, or 
the unrestrained usury of Damascene moneylenders, Druze protection came 
at a heavy price; villagers often welcomed Ottoman troops or even bedouin, 
if they came to teach the Druze a lesson. 13 After a year or two, though, with 
heavy government taxes and sometimes conscription demands — coupled with 
the perpetual inability of the government to deliver security in return for its 
exactions— the villages would invite the Druze to return or at least acquiesce 
to a return. This pattern continued into the 1930s. 

With the ascendance of the Atrash clan and the gradual exploitation of 
most good land, life became more difficult for Hawran Druze peasants. As 
Isma'il al- Atrash and his descendants were hard on their neighbors, they were 
also hard on the peasants who lived in the villages they controlled. The Atrash 
shaykhs began to exert authority over all the land adjoining their villages and 
to insist on the right to allot the shares of communal land as they wished. 
Hawran Druze society had long dictated that villagers be ready to defend the 
village behind the shaykh’s leadership, but the Atrash shaykhs began to evict 
villagers from their homes and land and replace them with younger, hungrier 
migrants, who might contribute more readily to the village’s complement of 
young male fighters. As the Atrash shaykhs exerted more authority over vil- 
lage life, their authority extended to the control of land. Not only did they 
insist on the right to supervise the periodic reallotment of communal lands, 
but they insisted on more shares for themselves personally. By the 1880s most 
Atrash shaykhs received a quarter of village communal land and sometimes 
conscripted peasants from their villages to work it. Though the land was com- 
munal, they periodically utilized their power to dispossess peasants from land 
that the cultivators actually owned. Such an act triggered an uprising in the 
final decade of the century. 

In 1889 a group of secondary chiefs and peasants formed a coalition to 
challenge the rule of the Atrash chiefs. The community was divided, and the 
Atrash family itself split into opposing camps. The conflict had simmered 

Rural Autonomy and Commercial Integration 


for several years; and when it finally came into the open, the Ottoman state 
exploited the opportunity to impose some form of government rule on Jabal 
Hawran. The power of the great chiefs declined. Peasants earned secure title 
to their land, or at least their shares, and the chiefs gave up half their shares, 
to bring the amount of land they controlled in most villages to no more than 
an eighth. Involuntary evictions stopped. 

The cleavages between the Hawran Druze endured. Some would argue 
that they continue to this day, both between the shaykhs and between mem- 
bers of the Atrash family. While a number of Atrash shaykhs, especially those 
from the provincial capital of Suwayda 3 , accepted Ottoman rule and took 
positions in the Ottomanized local government, some, particularly those of 
the southern villages, distant from Suwayda 3 , continued to decry the lack of 
unity among the community. The Ottoman state forced the Hawran Druze 
to accept outside governors (qd’immaqdm), among whom were Damascenes, 
such as Mahmud al-Ghazzi, and other outsiders, such as Yusuf Diya 3 al- 
Khalidi from Jerusalem. 14 The fact of Ottoman rule of law was bad enough; 
but all the shaykhs resisted outside governors, and several advocated them- 
selves or members of their families for the post. 

The final years of the nineteenth century were difficult in Jabal Hawran. 
State power over the area was vastly increased, the leadership of the Hawran 
Druze community was split into pro- and anti-Ottoman camps, their control 
of villages and wheat sales on the plain was more contested than it had been, 
and grain prices were in sharp and lengthy decline due to worldwide depres- 
sion. Between 1890 and the First World War, there were two major uprisings 
against the Ottoman state in Jabal Hawran. In 1896 the Hawran Druze faced 
an array of Ottoman soldiers, Circassian refugee settlers (armed by the state), 
hostile bedouin, and Hawrani villagers. Shibli al-Atrash, premier shaykh of 
the Jabal, had succeeded in his efforts to gain appointment as qa 3 immaqdm , 
and the Ottoman government had relented in its policy of appointing out- 
side governors; but now Shibli, as an Ottoman employee, could not take his 
place as the leader of the insurgency. 15 The forces united against them de- 
feated the Hawran Druze, though not without heavy losses for all concerned. 
The Ottomans, satisfied that they had pacified the Jabal, extended general 
amnesty and again left the Druze alone. 

In 1910, however, two years after the Unionist Revolution in Istanbul, 
Ottoman soldiers were back. This time they came in response to fighting be- 
tween Druze and bedouin. With thirty battalions of Ottoman troops, Sami 
Basha al-Faruqi met insignificant resistance. While the Hawran Druze lead- 
ers were aggressive in defense of what they saw as their rights, they were not 


The Hawran Frontier 

suicidal. In the wake of the invasion, Sami al-Faruqi disarmed the Hawran 
Druze, and some of the Jabal’s young men were taken as conscripts into the 
Ottoman army. Among them was a twenty-year-old named Sultan al-Atrash. 
He spent six months serving in the Balkans, where, among other things, he 
learned to read and write. Whatever goodwill the experience may have fos- 
tered was destroyed when the young man returned to find that his father, 
Dhuqan al-Atrash (shaykh of the southern Jabal village of al-Qraya), had 
been publicly hanged by the Ottoman authorities in Damascus, along with 
five other recalcitrant Druze shaykhs . 16 The executions were not soon for- 
gotten in Jabal Hawran, and they would be cited again and again as proof of 
Ottoman savagery and, anachronistically, as proof of Druze sacrifices for the 
Syrian Arab nation. 

Hawran Druze villages were not utopian peasant communes. But neither 
were they bastions of lordly feudal privilege and grinding rural serfdom. The 
notion of feudal rule and feudal social organization has long characterized 
accounts of social life in Jabal Hawran. The social system of Jabal Hawran, 
based as it was on rule by consent and the relatively free movement of labor, 
had virtually nothing in common with imagined European feudalism, ex- 
cept in the minds of the French officers and civil servants who so desperately 
sought to justify colonial domination. Their mission dictated the transforma- 
tion of rural society based on their own imagined history . 17 That French offi- 
cers viewed Syrian rural society through the prism of the civilizing mission 
and their own imagined history is unsurprising. What is surprising, however, 
is that their conceptions, deeply flawed though they were, have survived. 


Sultan al-Atrash was not the only young man of Jabal Hawran to venture out- 
side the mountain homeland for education and military service. Along with 
others from the unruly fringes of the Ottoman realms, a number of young men 
from J abal Hawran experienced the new institutions of Ottoman education in 
Damascus and even in Istanbul. As the Ottoman state under Sultan Abdiil- 
hamid II vigorously repressed expressions of autonomy in the provinces, it 
also tried to draw the provinces into the unifying culture of the center . 18 An 
Ottoman local official expressed the two policies vividly in a speech to defiant 
villagers. “With people like you only two things are possible. One, schools, 
in which to educate you to see the necessity of law and order . . . the other 
is the stick. Now, schools take fifteen years to produce a man such as I want; 
the stick is a matter of five minutes . . .” 19 The stick had been notably ineffec- 

Assimilating the Countryside 


tive in Jabal Hawran, and by the last decades of the nineteenth century the 
state had resolved to try other methods of discipline and control. 

Assimilation was easier in the urban centers like Damascus, where Otto- 
man rule had clear benefits, at least for some. Identification with Ottoman 
culture and power had enduring appeal in the late nineteenth century in the 
big cities of the Arab East. Damascene elites had innumerable depictions 
of Istanbul and the Bosporus with Ottoman banners flying, painted on the 
walls of their houses. They followed the styles of the imperial center with ob- 
sessive care. 20 But the state employed imaginative means to draw rural sub- 
jects into the government orbit too. Both in the cities and in the country- 
side the primary means of fostering the assimilation of Ottoman culture and 
identity were education, the promise of jobs and prestige, and good govern- 
ment. Maktab Anbar, officially known as the Damascus Civil Preparatory 
School, was the city’s most prestigious school and occupied a grand late nine- 
teenth century house built by a Damascene Jewish merchant and confiscated 
by the government after his bankruptcy. The school has been the topic of 
many memoirs and scholarly studies. It has long been considered a nursery for 
Syria’s interwar nationalist elite. Philip Khoury has shown that a large per- 
centage of the leaders of the National Bloc, which ruled in concert with the 
French between 1928 and independence, were graduates of Maktab Anbar. 21 

Maktab ‘Anbar was an elite school. It was expensive and was intended 
to provide education for boys who were sons of the local Ottomanized elite. 
‘Anbar students went on to study in Istanbul at the Imperial Civil Service 
School, Mekteb-i Miilkiye, at the Ottoman law or medical schools, or at for- 
eign universities. The scholarship on Maktab ‘Anbar has obscured from view 
the fact that, at least in the provinces, Ottoman education comprised two 
tiers: one to sustain state elites and one to foster new, admittedly lower-level, 
inductees into the Ottoman system. While ‘Anbar was an elite, tuition-based, 
civil preparatory school in Damascus, readying students for high government 
civil employment, there was also a fully subsidized military secondary school, 
known locally as the Maktab al-Pdadiyya al-‘Askariyya, at a relatively dis- 
tant location outside the city walls in the neighborhood of Baramka, near the 
military barracks and parade ground. The Damascus Ottoman military sec- 
ondary school is virtually unknown to scholars today, but a hundred years ago 
it was well known throughout Greater Syria. A staggeringly large proportion 
of the leaders of the Great Syrian Revolt received their schooling there. 22 

Young men of modest rural background rarely attended Maktab ‘Anbar. 
When they left their villages for the city, it was the military school they en- 
tered. They went on to further study at the Ottoman Imperial Military Col- 


The Hawran Frontier 

lege, the Mekteb-i Harbiye, not the Civil Service School, the Mekteb-i Miil- 
kiye, or foreign universities. The civil educational institutions remained the 
preserve of the wealthy elite. In the early 1960s Patrick Seale documented 
the Damascus ruling classes’ distaste for the army. He noted that the as- 
cendance of rural military officers in Syria’s postcolonial government of the 
late 1940s had resulted from elite distaste and rural recruiting. The pattern, 
however, was established much earlier, by the deliberate Ottoman policy of 
drawing rural people into the state system. When members of the Damas- 
cus landed elite sent their sons for higher education, the young men came 
back as lawyers, engineers, and scholars. When rural shaykhs, village lead- 
ers, and middling urban merchants sent their sons for higher education, they 
came back as graduates of the only schools their families could afford: state- 
subsidized military academies. 23 

A two-tiered educational system was not the only assimilative reform of 
late Ottoman rule. Sultan Abdiilhamid’s government had other, even more 
innovative, mechanisms for drawing the sons of rural leaders into the Otto- 
man system. In 1892 the sultan himself conceived and inaugurated the Tribal 
School in Istanbul. Mekteb-i A^iret was a multiyear boarding school intended 
to indoctrinate sons of leading rural shaykhs into Ottoman service. 24 Like 
military education, it too was completely subsidized. The Tribal School was 
designed to acculturate and assimilate those who would be the leaders and 
shaykhs of the previously ungovernable fringe regions of the empire. While 
Maktab Anbar was designed to instill loyalty in the provincial urban elite, 
the Tribal School was intended to serve the same purpose among the tribal 
leaders. The difference was that the indoctrination of provincial urban elites, 
for whom Ottoman rule brought clear benefits, took place in the provinces, 
while the much harder job of indoctrinating would-be rural leaders could only 
take place in the capital. The state intended the Tribal School for boys who 
would have local influence. 

Several of the boys who attended the Tribal School were sons of Druze 
or bedouin shaykhs from the Hawran. Students came from all over the em- 
pire, including Libya, Yemen, Hijaz, Iraq, and the Kurdish regions, and at 
least two of the first eighty-six students came from the Atrash clan . 25 From 
the Tribal School, most young men went on to the Imperial Military School, 
where they met other Arab students from similar rural and provincial back- 
grounds. At least some of the boys maintained friendships long after they had 
left the school to begin their military service. As a matter of policy, they were 
usually posted near their places of origin. Sa'id al-‘As, who was from a modest 
background in Hamah and a graduate of both the military school in Damas- 

Assimilating the Countryside 


cus and the Harbiye in Istanbul, noted that Ramadan Shallash, the son of 
a bedouin shaykh from Dayr al-Zur, and ‘Ali al-Atrash, from the Suwayda 3 
branch of the Atrash family, met and became friends at the Tribal School. 
Their friendship again emerged in 1925, as Ramadan Shallash came to the 
countryside of Damascus to join ‘All al-Atrash and another former comrade 
from the Ottoman army, Fawzi al-Qawuqji, in the fight against the French. 26 

Muhammad ‘Izz al-Din al-Halabi was another young man who bene- 
fited from a state military education. He was born in 1889 in thejabal Hawran 
town of Shahba, where his relatives were locally important Druze shaykhs. 
For reasons that are unclear, he attended a few years of secondary school in 
Ankara in central Anatolia, which was then a small town. After a return to 
Jabal Hawran, he secured a place in the Harbiye in Istanbul, from which he 
graduated at an unusually young age in 1905. He served in the Ottoman Fifth 
Army, headquartered in Damascus, after 1905. In 1909 he received command 
of a reserve cavalry squadron in Duma, just northwest of Damascus, on the 
Hums road. In 1912 he resigned his commission in protest over the Ottoman 
defense ministry’s pacification campaign led by Sami Basha al-Faruqi in Jabal 
Hawran and the executions that followed. Muhammad ‘Izz al-Din spent the 
war years as qa ' immaqam of the district of al-Zabadani, in the mountains west 
of Damascus. After the war, he became an employee of Amir Faysal’s gov- 
ernment and fought the French invasion of inland Syria at the battle of May- 
salun. When France occupied mandate Syria, he returned to Jabal Hawran, 
where he became a delegate to the representative council in Suwayda 3 . He 
commanded insurgents in the countryside from 1925 until 1927, with often 
devastating effectiveness. The mandate power exiled him, along with most 
other military leaders (usually labeled “Sharifian bandits”), until 1937. 27 

The uprising of 1925 owed much of its national character to the bonds 
between such former officers. It is impossible to know what experiences they 
shared in Istanbul and on the battlefields of the Great War, because, as para- 
gons of an emerging Syrian Arab nationalism, they rarely wrote about their 
Ottoman experiences. Whether the Ottoman project of education and as- 
similation had served to bind these young men to the Ottoman state or to 
nascent ideas of Arab nationalism or to both, at different times, there is no 
question that the experience served to bind them to one another and, in time, 
to ideas of an independent Syrian state that could be. 

The few memoirs they left make it clear that by 1925, when nearly all were 
in their middle to late thirties, many of them had known one another since 
they were teenagers. They had met at military school in Damascus, in the 
Tribal School or at the Harbiye in Istanbul, or in battles in Libya, the Balkans, 


The Hawran Frontier 

Anatolia, Gallipoli, the Arabian desert, and Maysalun. They were soldiers 
rather than theorists, and their chronicles and their actions display frustra- 
tion with and trenchant criticism of the civilian nationalist elite of Damascus. 
They identified themselves as nationalists and patriots, but their nationalism 
was practical and unsystematic; they focused on expelling the French from 
Syria and sometimes mixed in popular Islamic religion, anti-Christian agita- 
tion, and even class warfare against urban landlords and notables. It is very 
likely that people such as these, of modest background and representing an 
emerging social class fostered by military education, were able to communi- 
cate with and organize the resistance of ordinary urban and rural Syrians far 
better than the self-appointed nationalist elite of intellectuals and western- 
educated politicians. 


Despite the “Sharifian” epithet used by mandate intelligence officers, not all 
Arab Ottoman officers joined Amir Faysal in the British-sponsored Arab 
Revolt. Muhammad ‘Izz al-Din al-Halabi did not, and neither did Fawzi 
al-Qawuqji. Still, many others did join Faysal, often after capture by Arab 
or British forces. In the late summer of 1918, as the Sharifian army entered 
Hawran, they were joined by Sultan al-Atrash and a number of Druze horse- 
men from Jabal Hawran for the final advance on Damascus. Before the Druze 
forces joined Faysal, however, they signed agreements with his representa- 
tives, guaranteeing a high degree of regional autonomy in the state that would 
emerge from the Ottoman withdrawal. 28 

Direct military involvement was one thing, but some of the Hawran 
Druze had played a less direct but nonetheless important role in the war since 
1916. They had supplied the British-bankrolled Arab army with bread since 
at least 1917. It was also the Druze, of the southern and traditionally anti- 
Ottoman part of the Jabal, who sheltered anti-Ottoman Damascene militants 
in the safety of their mountain. The wartime Ottoman governor of Wilayat 
Suriyya (the Ottoman province of Greater Syria), Ahmad Jamal Basha, en- 
acted harsh punitive measures to combat what he perceived as subversive and 
treasonous activity by Arab nationalists and partisans of Sharif al-Husayn 
and his Arab army. He hanged a number of suspected nationalists, and those 
who could escape went to Cairo or Europe. Along the way many went to 
Jabal Hawran, where they stayed in villages in the southern Jabal as guests 
of Druze leaders, among them, Sultan al-Atrash and 'Abd al-Ghaffar al- 
Atrash. 29 While he certainly flew his own standard, Sultan al-Atrash claimed 
he was the first to raise the Arab flag over the Jabal. 

The Arab Revolt and the Hawran Druze 


The first link between Amir Faysal and the Hawran Druze was Nasib al- 
Bakri. Amir Faysal had stayed in the Bakri family house in the village of al- 
Qabun early in 1916, before the beginning of the Arab Revolt. 30 Nasib and 
his brother Fawzi al-Bakri’s ties with Faysal dated from before the war and 
originated with their fathers, ‘Ata Allah al-Bakri and al-Husayn, the Sharif 
of Mecca. Sharif al-Husayn cemented the connection by appointing Fawzi 
al-Bakri his personal bodyguard. During Faysal’s stay in 1916, Nasib al-Bakri 
organized a meeting of Druze shaykhs, including Sultan and Husayn al- 
Atrash, and some Damascene nationalist members of the secret society al- 
Fatat, to try to gain support for a revolt against Ottoman rule. 31 It was natu- 
ral that Bakri would call upon the Hawran Druze for such a project, since 
their antipathy and periodic armed resistance against the Ottoman state were 
known everywhere. Sultan and Husayn al-Atrash met Faysal and were im- 
pressed with him but declined to lend more than their conditional support to 
the revolt. 

Besides their connection with Sharif Husayn and Faysal, the Bakris had 
long-standing ties with the Hawran and Damascene Druze. Nasib was born 
in 1888, and Fawzi was born in 1886. Both were graduates of Maktab Anbar in 
Damascus. The Bakris had houses and commercial connections in their Da- 
mascus neighborhood of al-Shaghur and in the Ghuta village of al-Qabun. 
The village was just outside Damascus near the Druze village of Jaramana. 
The Bakris were not large landowners by Damascene notable standards, but 
they did have holdings in and around Jaramana and knew various Druze 
shaykhs well. 32 Amir Faysal made Nasib his personal secretary, and he also 
made him his envoy to the Hawran Druze. 

The most important contribution of the Hawran Druze to the Arab Re- 
volt was grain. As the war progressed, a crushing famine gripped most of 
Greater Syria. In Syrian usage, famine and conscription are still collapsed in 
the Turkish word for land mobilization, seferberlik, which evokes all aspects of 
the horrible suffering of the war years. Linda Schilcher has shown that while 
grain merchant speculators bore some of the blame for the famine, the most 
devastating element was effective British blockade of all Arab Mediterranean 
ports . 33 At the time, it was realized— though apparently not by the Ottoman 
high command— that grain shortages in Arabia and starvation among the 
tribes were the principal reason bedouin joined the revolt. While the British 
kept any grain from entering the country, the Ottoman command, with insuf- 
ficient food for the army, cut supplies to the coast due to the suspicion (prob- 
ably well founded) that unscrupulous grain speculators would either hoard 
grain in Beirut or export it for still higher prices. Meanwhile, with insufficient 


The Hawran Frontier 

funds to buy grain on the open market, the Ottoman command was forced to 
resort to a policy of price fixing for grain producers. When the command was 
unable to impose a stable grain price, the policy changed to one of more or 
less forced confiscation, with token payment, of grain stores from both pro- 
ducers and merchants. Only the Hawran Druze had enough independence 
from the central government to resist confiscation. 

British war policy led indirectly to the deaths by starvation of hundreds 
of thousands in the cities of Greater Syria and in the Ottoman army. The 
Ottoman high command in Istanbul bore responsibility too and had evidently 
decided by early 1918 that Greater Syria was lost and that resupply was futile. 
Enver Pasha, the Ottoman minister of war, constantly sought to divert men 
and supplies to the Caucasus and even to Azerbaijan. At one point, in mid- 
summer 1918, Enver Pasha offered Ottoman officers on the Arab front double 
pay and promotion if they accepted reposting to the east Caucasus, where 
there was no fighting in prospect. Three hundred thousand Ottoman soldiers 
deserted— most simply to go home, but many deserted to the British and 
Arab forces. While Ottoman subjects and soldiers starved, the British (well 
supplied with food and gold to buy grain from the Hawran Druze) dropped 
beautifully colored and illustrated leaflets on the retreating Ottoman troops, 
depicting the lavish meals they would enjoy as prisoners and British-Arab 
soldiers. 34 After the armistice, the British and French flooded the cities of 
Greater Syria with embargoed and hoarded grain, reaping the goodwill of a 
grateful populace, who blamed the famine on the defeated Ottomans rather 
than on their victorious liberators. 

Sultan al-Atrash claimed that the Jabal sheltered and fed 50,000 refugees 
from the Ottoman army and the famine. He mentioned this by way of deflect- 
ing the periodic charge of war profiteering by the Druze, their refusal to sell 
Hawrani grain to Ottoman-held Damascus at fixed government prices, and 
their preference for more profitable sales to the British-bankrolled Sharifian 
army, a trade that the British encouraged with every means available. 35 While 
they sheltered and fed thousands of refugees daily, the grain trade continued, 
in cooperation with Maydani merchants and local bedouin. Lines of trans- 
port, though, moved south toward the British line rather than north toward 
Damascus or toward Haifa. 36 Sultan al-Atrash had powerful personal reasons 
for dislike of the Ottoman state that transcended commercial interests, but 
not all joined him in abandoning the Ottomans. 

The issue of loyalty to the Ottoman state provoked fiery controversy 
among the Hawran Druze leadership. In an extraordinary exchange of letters 
between Sultan al-Atrash and his Ottoman loyalist cousin and titular head of 

The Arab Revolt and the Hawran Druze 


the community, Salim al-Atrash, from August 1918, Salim accused Sultan of 
stupidly joining what he called the “snuff-box army of Sharif al-Husayn” and 
threatened him with expulsion from the community if he continued his finan- 
cially motivated treachery against the Ottoman state. Sultan replied two days 
later (with great pro-British enthusiasm) that he was not greedy for money, 
since it was not he who dined at the Damascus Palace Hotel, presumably with 
Jamal Basha, “or any other Turk, the murderers of our fathers.” He accused 
Salim of seeking to place the Druze “under the boot of the most savage state 
on earth.” 37 In 1918 Sultan al-Atrash was twenty-seven years old, the son of a 
man hanged by the Ottomans, already a community leader, and a committed 
partisan of the Hashemites and particularly the British. 

Amir Faysal kept his pledge to the Hawran Druze and stayed out of their 
affairs for the duration of his short rule, though he hardly had the power 
to interfere during the turbulent twenty-two months. 38 Others did not keep 
their pledges: when France insisted on enforcing the division of Greater Syria 
agreed upon with the British and validated by the League of Nations, the 
British dismissed their pledges to support Faysal’s kingdom and stood aside 
as their European wartime allies brought an end to the government of their 
Arab wartime allies. French intelligence agents had already been circulating 
in Jabal Hawran to help smooth the way for French rule. When the agents 
arrived, they found the Hawran Druze divided about their mandate along 
much the same lines as they had been divided about the Ottomans. Salim al- 
Atrash supported the mandate as he had supported Ottoman rule, while his 
cousin Sultan al-Atrash led the opposition. 

Like the Druze, Damascenes were divided in their attitudes toward Fay- 
sal’s Arab government and the prospect of foreign rule. Opposition to Faysal 
and his nationalist and military followers followed generational and class 
lines. Younger and more humble segments of society tended to support the 
new government, while older and more established notables looked to the 
European powers to reestablish order and allow them to assume their custom- 
ary social roles. The core of Faysal’s supporters consisted of former Ottoman 
military officers from modest families. Many were from Iraq and joined the 
Arab Revolt in 1915 and 1916, but Ottoman officers who had not joined the 
revolt also flocked to Faysal’s side after his arrival in Damascus. These officers 
were more likely to hail from Greater Syria than from Iraq. Apparently there 
were few hard feelings between them; and former Ottoman army comrades 
who became wartime enemies easily again became postwar comrades. Fawzi 
al-Qawuqji, Muhammad ‘Izz al-Din al-Halabi, Sa'id al-As, and others were 
among the group who joined Faysal after the end of the war. Faysal, without a 


The Hawran Frontier 

local base of support in Damascus and subject to the opposition of most of the 
landowning notable families, trusted the officer upstarts and rewarded them 
with jobs and influence. The landowning elite of Damascus and other Syrian 
cities mistrusted him and his lower-middle-class military officer supporters. 39 
When the French invaded Syria in the summer of 1920, it was Faysal’s mili- 
tary loyalists who led the doomed popular defense at Maysalun. Members of 
the notable families stayed at home and waited for the French to arrive. 

A few young men from the upper reaches of Damascene society had lent 
their support to Faysal during his 1916 visit. Many of these were prewar Arab 
nationalists and had been under threat by the wartime Ottoman government. 
They included Dr. Abd al-Rahman al-Shahbandar, who fled into exile with 
the Druze; members of the Bakri family, who served as Faysal’s envoy to the 
Druze; and members of the Haydar family, who were Shi'a from Ba'labak. 
Not coincidentally, these few also played prominent roles in the Syrian re- 
volt of 1925. Some of these, notably Rustum Haydar, accompanied Faysal to 
Iraq after the French occupation of Syria in 1920. Those who stayed, includ- 
ing Rustum Haydar ’s relative Sa'id Haydar and Dr. Shahbandar, became re- 
luctant political strategists for their more militant comrades in 1925. Faysal 
and his radical nationalist and military supporters posed a real challenge to 
the ruling order of Damascus in 1918 and later. They thus provoked oppo- 
sition both among the Syrian notable elite and among members of the new 
French government. Those left behind when Faysal fled into exile transferred 
their opposition to the French mandate authority and to the elite families that 
helped it function. 

The roots of opposition to French rule reached deeply into southern 
Syria’s social and economic history. Changing relations of commerce served to 
tie perennially rebellious Jabal Hawran to Damascus much more firmly than 
ever before. Rural shaykhs and Damascene merchants developed new com- 
mercial channels, which by the 1920s were already decades old. Commercial 
contacts led to social contacts, mutual understanding, and a feeling of con- 
nectedness. Middling grain merchants in Maydan first became sympathetic 
to the struggles of the Hawran Druze against the state; and as commercial 
partners they understood and empathized with the difficulties of their prin- 
cipal suppliers. When Damascenes like Nasib al-Bakri kindled wartime re- 
volt against the Ottoman state, it was natural that they should call on Druze 
shaykhs to join them. Commerce in grain was the origin of these connections, 
which had not existed twenty or thirty years before. Damascene merchants — 
many of whom (whether from ideological conviction, capitalist self-interest, 

The Arab Revolt and the Hawran Druze 


or a mixture of both) had become Arab nationalists, Arab renegades from 
the Ottoman army, fugitive nationalist politicians from Damascus, and grain 
buyers for the Sharifian forces— all converged on Jabal Hawran during the 
war, and all brought new political ideas. 

Meanwhile the sons of middling merchants and rural shaykhs from all 
over Greater Syria had met one another in new state educational institu- 
tions. They had served and fought side by side in the Ottoman military and 
often in the Arab army. Many had joined in the battle of Maysalun to defend 
Syria from France. Boys from modest rural and urban backgrounds, they had 
first experienced military education around the turn of the century. After the 
war, they returned to their communities (in Jabal Hawran, among their bed- 
ouin tribes, in villages, and in urban quarters) as grown men in their thirties, 
worldly wise and full of new ideas. They were the first generation of national- 
ists who were not intellectuals or politicians. They could communicate in the 
language of their origins, and they brought unique experiences of the outside 
world that gave them credibility as leaders. 

These connections have been mostly ignored for seventy-five years. French 
officers described the origins of the uprising as a mobilization of Druze “feu- 
dal lords” against the enlightened polices of mandate rule. Druze “serfs” were 
so backward that they failed to identify their own best interests when they 
declined to support their European liberators against their chiefs. Nation- 
alist “extremists” from Damascus came and through fast talk and guile (as 
the chiefs had tricked the peasants) tricked the chiefs to continue the fight 
against the mandate. “Bandits” everywhere came and took advantage of dis- 
order for pillage and plunder. Running through the story was the separateness 
of numerous small segments, sharing little or nothing with other small seg- 
ments. In the French conception, there was no cohesion and nothing shared 
between the social strata of Syria. Mandate policy was predicated on, and 
formulated to emphasize, the divisions of Syrian society. A nationalist move- 
ment, united against mandate rule, was an unspeakable prospect for the self- 
appointed rulers of the mandate over Syria. 


Mobilizing the Mountain 

R esistance movements emerged in various parts of the Syrian country- 
side on the eve of the French occupation. Though nationalist feel- 
_ ings and ideas were on the rise all over the country, local articulation 
differed from place to place. One of those places was Jabal Hawran. Syrian 
Arab nationalism, as it evolved in Jabal Hawran, was inspired in part by newly 
prominent nationalists and army veterans in Faysal’s government and by re- 
membered struggles against the Ottomans and impending struggles against 
France. Still, the proximity of Damascus and the long-standing contact with 
the city and its political ferment did not mean that new forms of identity 
were centrally directed from a smoke-filled room of the Damascene nation- 
alist elite. Local people worked out for themselves what it meant to be part 
of a larger community. Eventually the countryside came to lead the city in 
nationalist resistance. The emerging nationalists of Jabal Hawran felt deeply 
that they were part of a larger Syrian nation, but they articulated their ideas 
in view of local conditions and local experience. While most agreed that there 
was one Syrian nation, united against the French occupation, there were many 
Syrian nationalisms, each evolving in its local context. Some would play a 
larger role than others. 


France completed the occupation of Syria in 1920. One of the new colonial 
government’s first acts was to divide the mandated territory into a series of 
regional units, based on sectarian difference and the perceived interests of 
France. The coastal regions of Mount Lebanon, the areas of greatest tradi- 
tional French influence, became the state of Greater Lebanon, intended to 
maintain a Christian Uniate, or nominally Catholic, majority. The state of 
Greater Lebanon, while tiny as compared with most independent countries, 
was several times larger than the special administrative district, the mutasarri- 
fiyy at jabal lubnan, which the Ottoman state had set up after the war of i860 
to ensure intersectarian peace and limit European interference in Ottoman 

Claiming the Mandate 


affairs. French colonial functionaries drew the borders between Greater Leba- 
non and the state of Syria specifically to favor members of the Uniate rites, the 
only reliable French clients, with a state of their own. The border zigged and 
zagged from mountain to valley, sometimes spiking 15 kilometers or more, in 
a surreal effort to divide regions, districts, and even villages by religious sect. 
Still, the new state of Lebanon included many Muslims and Christians alike 
who preferred to be part of a larger mixed state centered on Damascus. From 
the state of Lebanon, the mandate power turned its attention east, to inland 
Syria and Damascus. 

Resistance to mandate rule began before France had fully occupied in- 
land Syria. Many Syrians, with fresh memories of the Great War, had resisted 
Faysal’s attempts to conscript them into the army. But when French forces 
advanced east from Beirut, thousands of Syrian men and women, some armed 
with no more than sticks, went to stop them at the pass of Khan Maysa- 
lun in the Anti-Lebanon mountains, 25 kilometers west of Damascus. While 
Damascenes were not universally persuaded by Faysal’s calls for national sac- 
rifice, army veterans, quarter bosses (qabadayat ) , local religious leaders, and 
merchants found scores of volunteers in each Damascus neighborhood when 
they started to organize resistance. More than a few of these local leaders did 
not survive the battle of Maysalun, though almost all of those who did sur- 
vive took part in the uprising of 1925. 1 Hawran Druze forces under Sultan 
al-Atrash did not arrive in time to join the battle. 

French forces easily defeated Syria’s ragtag army at Khan Maysalun, but 
the defeat was the beginning of resistance rather than the end. A series of 
relatively uncoordinated resistance movements emerged in the north of man- 
date Syria, led by Shaykh Salih al- Ali in the north coastal Alawite (Alawi) 
mountains and later by Ibrahim Hananu, an Ottoman-trained lawyer and 
former Ottoman army officer. While they both received material assistance 
from Turkish and Arab nationalists, Salih al- ‘All’s revolt remained locally fo- 
cused on conditions for the Alawites in their mountains, and Hananu turned 
toward the new Turkish state for inspiration. Hananu’s revolt took place in the 
countryside surrounding Aleppo; and for the former army officers who played 
the most important roles, it was a dress rehearsal for the uprising of 1925. 
When the French agreed to withdraw from Cilicia in what became southeast- 
ern Turkey, the Turkish resistance was forced to curtail support for both Salih 
al- Ali and Hananu. Their movements died out; but Hananu’s revolt, at least, 
had lasting effects. The uprising brought together people who would con- 
tinue to fight European occupation for years. Former Sharifian officers who 
had deserted the Ottomans, like Ramadan Shallash, rejoined those who had 


Mobilizing the Mountain 

remained with the Ottomans until the end of the war, like Hananu himself. 2 
Local resistance emerged sporadically in Hawran and Jabal Hawran as well. 

Regional resistance led to regional partition. Besides Greater Lebanon, 
the new government divided the mandatory territory into the state of Syria 
(including Damascus and later Aleppo), the Alawite state of the northern 
coastal regions, and, after 1922, the state of Jabal Druze. 3 The policy of sepa- 
ration aimed to exploit divisions in Syrian society and break Syria into easily 
managed geographically and religiously separate pieces. The architects of this 
policy were French colonial officers, most with North African experience and 
with a particular right-wing, pro-Catholic political bent. The colonial policy 
that they designed in Morocco and brought to Syria mixed indirect rule, 
through co-opted traditional elites, with a heavy measure of unself-conscious 
paternalism. It favored traditional elites over those with modern education 
and nationalist ideas, the countryside over the city, Uniate Christians over 
Orthodox Christians and all Christians over Muslims, and minorities over 
majorities generally and sought to emphasize divisions within society and to 
develop each segment independently of others, thereby facilitating colonial 
rule and curtailing organized challenges before they could emerge. At the 
base of the conception of colonial rule was a romantic notion of timeless and 
changeless “Oriental” society, best governed with fatherly “love” for the colo- 
nial citizens. Combined with paternalistic love was an emphasis on the ma- 
terial and economic advantages of colonial rule. 4 

Colonial bureaucrats believed that these policies served the interests of 
both France and the colonized country. While the notion of common inter- 
ests may have been functional in Morocco, it was not functional in Syria. In 
1920 Syria had a well-defined nationalist movement, many leaders with mod- 
ern education and ideas, the collective experience of nominally independent 
rule under Faysal, and a large number of unemployed military officers who 
had resisted the colonial occupation. France was widely blamed for the over- 
throw of Faysal’s government and for a crushing economic crisis. The pater- 
nalism of colonial rule was probably unworkable in the end, particularly given 
the meager benefits the mandate brought to Syria, but the policy was not to 
remain constant in any event. 

At the beginning of 1925 the third French high commissioner for Syria 
and Lebanon arrived in Beirut. Unlike his predecessors and the architects of 
France’s policy in Syria and Lebanon, General Maurice Sarrail was a repub- 
lican anticlericalist freethinker and a darling of the French Left. He also dif- 
fered from his predecessors in that he had a total lack of colonial experience. 
Sarrail abandoned the idea of paternalistically guided indirect rule for direct 

Governing Jabal Hawran 


military rule. He was a general who courted controversy, and his military staff 
was divided along political lines. The rightist officers were skeptical of Sarrail, 
and he was suspicious toward them; but he trusted his fellow leftist mandate 
officers wholeheartedly. One of these men was the governor of Jabal Hawran, 
Captain Gabriel Carbillet. 

General Sarrail had received the office of high commissioner in Syria be- 
cause he was the most famous leftist general in France. In 1925 the Left had 
just taken power. The Right already had its colonial general in Marshal Louis- 
Hubert Lyautey, the resident-general in Morocco, architect of indirect rule 
in North Africa, and inspiration for the original conception of paternalistic 
indirect rule in Syria. As a republican radical with no knowledge of Syria, 
Sarrail unequivocally and enthusiastically supported the “reforms” of his fel- 
low leftist officer Captain Carbillet, designed to break the back of the Druze 
“feudal society.” Reforms included punitive measures such as forcing Jabal 
community leaders, and even religious shaykhs, to break stones in their vil- 
lages as punishment for noncooperation with the mandate reform program. 


In 1922 the mandate government had signed an agreement with some of the 
Hawran Druze shaykhs, usually called the “Druze Charter of Independence.” 
This agreement guaranteed an elected council or majlis and an elected Druze 
governor under French military supervision. The agreement was not univer- 
sally popular, and the anti-French camp felt it made too many concessions to 
the mandatory power. They referred to it derisively as the Abu Fakhr docu- 
ment because of the preponderance of the Abu Fakhr family among its sig- 
natories. 5 Salim al-Atrash was the first governor under the agreement. When 
he resigned and died in mid-1923, he was replaced as governor, on a suppos- 
edly temporary basis, by the mandate advisor to the governor of the state of 
Jabal Druze, Major Trenga. A few months later Captain Carbillet replaced 
Major Trenga and ignored calls for an election of a native governor. Carbillet, 
like Sarrail, was a republican reformer and an enthusiastic bearer of French 
civilization. He combined zeal and ambition with the paternalistic “love” of 
his mandate predecessors. As governor, he became the effective ruler of Jabal 
Hawran; but more than ruling, he sought to alter the foundations of Druze 
society by mobilizing those he perceived as oppressed serfs against their feu- 
dal and despotic lords. 6 In lieu of taxes, which the mandate government had 
promised the Hawran Druze they would not have to pay, Carbillet instituted 
a policy of public works based on conscripted corvee labor. His government 


Mobilizing the Mountain 

conscripted mostly peasants, but shaykhs were sometimes required to work 
too, usually as punishment. They built paved roads and canals, among other 
projects. He explained that these projects would improve life for the inhabi- 
tants of the Jabal, but neither those he identified as oppressed peasants nor 
those he saw as feudal lords appreciated his efforts. Carbillet and his sup- 
porters in France attributed this opposition to the fact that the peasants were 
too backward to recognize their best interests and the shaykhs were too self- 
interested to support reforms that would erode their power. He and his superi- 
ors were constantly concerned with limiting the influence of outside agitators 
in the Jabal, particularly Sharifians and Damascene nationalists. Quite apart 
from any outsiders, however, there was plenty of opposition to Carbillet ’s rule 
among the residents of Jabal Hawran. Sultan al-Atrash led the opposition, 
while a few of his Suwayda’ relatives, Faris Sa'id al-Atrash foremost among 
them, supported Carbillet. 

The Druze shaykhs tried to convey their complaints against Carbillet to 
General Sarrail as soon as he arrived in Beirut. Carbillet successfully lim- 
ited access to the high commissioner; and when Hamad, Nasib, and Abd al- 
Ghaffar al-Atrash finally met Sarrail, Carbillet had already briefed him on 
their grievances. They produced the Charter of Independence and demanded 
their right to elect a native governor to replace Carbillet. Sarrail, in an act his 
many critics later seized upon as proof of his incompetence, proclaimed that 
the agreement had no validity and was nothing more than a scrap of paper for 
the archives. 7 Sarrail continued to ignore protests and petitions and more than 
once refused to see Druze delegations that had traveled to Beirut to meet him. 

In late spring 1925, with trouble brewing in Jabal Hawran, Carbillet was 
ordered to return to France for a vacation. His temporary successor, Captain 
Antoine Raynaud (a member of the more numerous right wing among the 
French officer corps), was more popular with the Druze; but his alarming re- 
ports to the high commissioner were viewed by Sarrail as part of a conspiracy 
to remove Carbillet permanently. Encouraged by Raynaud’s more accommo- 
dating attitude, a Druze delegation of twenty-nine local leaders traveled to 
Damascus on 15 June 1925 to present a petition to a visiting French sena- 
tor. 8 The petition shows evidence of growing Syrian nationalist sentiment 
among the independence-minded Hawran Druze shaykhs. It demonstrates 
the commercial basis for relations with the capital from the perspective of 
Jabal Hawran. The Hawran Druze were conscious that their grain fed Da- 
mascus. They presented the petition to Senator August Brunet “in cognizance 
with the wishes of the whole of the Syrian nation” (lil-wuquf‘ald matalib al- 
umina al-suriyya jam* a) . It stated that “the Jabal Druze is an integral part of 

Governing Jabal Hawran 


Syria through deeply ingrained common language, common nationality, and 
common economic relations. Damascus gets its food from the Jabal and the 
Jabal procures all its supplies from Damascus. These relations between them 
date from the distant past .” 9 The petition goes on to cite ties between the 
Jabal and the desert and to request a basic law, an end to arbitrary judgment 
and imprisonment, the guarantee of personal freedom, and freedom of speech 
and finally to request the permanent replacement of Carbillet with Raynaud. 
Sarrail refused to act on the petition, and a second delegation to Beirut was 
met by his complete refusal to receive them . 10 

The petition is significant in view of the themes that introduced this chap- 
ter. It demonstrates with crystalline clarity both national consciousness and 
regional specificity. The petition blended the unambiguous language of Syrian 
nationalism with specific local goals and grievances. While Jabal Hawran and 
its inhabitants were an integral part of the Syrian nation and the signatories 
sought general guarantees of the rule of law, legal freedoms, and rights, they 
had concerns that were unique to Hawran and centered on the replacement 
of Carbillet with Raynaud. As there was tension among the Druze between 
inclusive nationalism and regional autonomy, there is tension in the petition; 
in June 1925 popular Syrian nationalism was a way to gain freedom from the 
harsh rule of the mandate government. It was not a way to lose regional au- 
tonomy to the politicians of Damascus. There was not one Damascene among 
the petition’s signatories. 

Later that same month, many of the same people formed a group that they 
called al-Jam‘iyya al-Wataniyya (the Patriotic Club). Sultan al-Atrash took a 
leading role in both the delegation and the formation of the new organiza- 
tion . 11 The initial meeting of the club drew more than 400 men and resulted 
in a list of aims and policies, which focused primarily on retaining Raynaud as 
governor, preventing the return of Carbillet, and asserting a measure of advi- 
sory control over the pro-French members of the elected council. At a second 
meeting, at the house of Husayn Murshid Ridwan, the members of the new 
organization resolved to attend the next representative council meeting and 
call upon the council to serve its community and prevent the return of Car- 
billet. Sultan al-Atrash claimed that the main intention of the planned dem- 
onstration was to galvanize and mobilize the Jabal population against Car- 
billet and to prevent the council from disregarding their wishes . 12 

At ten o’clock on the morning of 3 July Sultan al-Atrash headed a group of 
mounted men to the council building in Suwayda’. According to Hanna Abi 
Rashid, 400 men arrived, mostly on horseback. They swept into the square 
in front of the government building and began what he described as a peace- 


Mobilizing the Mountain 

ful protest of shouting traditional songs and slogans. Sultan al-Atrash noted 
that they sang war songs, and some fired their guns in the air. It was a feast 
day, and the square was already crowded with people. Inside the building, 
the council was in session under Raynaud and included Muhammad ‘Izz al- 
Din al-Halabi, ‘Ali ‘Ubayd, and Hanna Abi Rashid, among others. The pro- 
testers outside the building called on the council in the name of al-Jam'iyya 
al-Wataniyya and the future of the Jabal to depose Carbillet and to promote 
Raynaud. 13 

The protest did not remain peaceful. Abi Rashid claimed that Lieuten- 
ant Maurel, whom he called a spy and provocateur for Carbillet, propelled 
the Jabal into revolt. 14 Faris al-Atrash, who was a pro-Carbillet member of 
the council, came into the square and denounced the demonstrators as “trai- 
tors to the homeland, and enemies of France.” 15 Abi Rashid exclaimed in his 
chronicle, with perhaps unintentional irony, that it started as “a demonstra- 
tion more peaceful than those in the heart of France, or America, or Bei- 
rut, and this among men of war and of the sword.” Sultan al-Atrash, dic- 
tating his memoirs fifty years later, appears to have read Abi Rashid shortly 
before meeting his interviewers. Each mentions 400 men, and while Sultan 
al-Atrash too insists on a peaceful demonstration, he proceeds to mention 
firing in the air, singing war songs, abusing pro-French Druze, and generally 
raising a ruckus. He recounts driving the gendarmerie back with a shower of 
stones and wounding several among them, including Maurel. Salama ‘Ubayd 
wrote that Maurel ordered the gendarmerie to disperse the demonstrators 
without consulting Raynaud; after dispersing them, they continued to pur- 
sue the demonstrators, until the protesters retaliated by throwing stones and 
drove the soldiers back. 16 The demonstrators retreated from the square in 
front of the government building, fifty meters down the street, and into the 
second square of Suwayda 3 , at the foot of which sat the Atrash guesthouse or 
madafa. During the confusion, Husayn Murshid fired his revolver at Lieu- 
tenant Maurel and missed. Maurel fired back but also missed; and the Druze 
chiefs intervened, offering an immediate apology to Maurel for the “regret- 
table mistake.” 17 

Raynaud adjourned the council meeting and came on the scene. He called 
on the Atrash leaders of Suwayda 3 in the guesthouse of ‘Abd al-Ghaffar al- 
Atrash to demand apologies and discuss punishment for Husayn Murshid 
and the inhabitants of Suwayda 3 generally. According to Abi Rashid, ‘Abd al- 
Ghaffar offered an abject apology and twenty Suwayda 3 youth for immediate 
detention, including his eldest son, Yusuf. 18 Raynaud left the Atrash guest- 
house and returned across the town square to the government building. At 

Governing Jabal Hawran 


two o’clock that afternoon he summoned the community leaders for his judg- 

The punitive measures were harsh. The people of Suwayda’ were com- 
manded to pay ioo Ottoman gold pounds and to give up twenty of their youth 
for detention. Raynaud ordered Husayn Murshid’s family to be expelled to 
Salkhad and his house to be destroyed. Husayn Murshid had meanwhile evi- 
dently escaped to Transjordan, and the fine was levied in his absence . 19 Ray- 
naud had dispatched the gendarmerie to Husayn Murshid’s house before the 
meeting. As the shaykhs learned of the punishment, troops were already ar- 
riving at Husayn Murshid’s house. While the Druze shaykhs indicated their 
willingness to comply, they protested the destruction of Husayn Murshid’s 
house and claimed that such action would result in an immediate uprising . 20 

Confident of surprise, Maurel and a troop of soldiers immediately went 
to destroy the house of Husayn Murshid. When the soldiers arrived, how- 
ever, it was they who were surprised. The Murshid family and their neigh- 
bors greeted Maurel and his troops with defiance, and a large group of armed 
men was already present. Fifteen minutes before, Sultan al-Atrash had ar- 
rived with armed horsemen . 21 Salama ‘Ubayd wrote: “Husayn Murshid and 
his family refused the destruction of their home out of fear that [if they did 
not resist] it would become customary [punishment] . Their indignation and 
sense of outrage increased until they were joined by nearby villages who were 
prepared to help .” 22 They forced the French soldiers to back down. A French 
report on the causes of the revolt found Sultan al-Atrash’s arrival on the scene, 
and his ability to face down the mandate power, one of the most important 
elements in the beginning of the revolt. As he alone challenged the mandate 
power and opposed what all viewed as injustice, his popularity increased; and 
those who sought accommodation with the French and Druze independence 
from Damascus national politics were pushed to the sidelines . 23 

High commissioner General Sarrail received the news from Suwayda’ the 
same day. Despite the humanistic claims of the colonial mission, calls for 
justice and due process brought heavy-handed repression. Sarrail resolutely 
refused to meet with or consider the petitions or complaints of Druze lead- 
ers, considering them ungrateful troublemakers rather than representatives 
of their communities . 24 He ignored the warnings of his own staff and sug- 
gested that Raynaud, the interim governor and a member of the more nu- 
merous right wing among the French officer corps, did not know what he was 
talking about when he warned of imminent revolt . 25 

Sarrail recalled Raynaud and appointed Major Tommy Martin, Damas- 
cus chief of the Service des Renseignements (Intelligence Service), as interim 


Mobilizing the Mountain 

governor. Sarrail also instructed Martin to investigate the complaints against 
Carbillet pending Carbillet’s return to the Jabal. Meanwhile Druze shaykhs 
sent a petition enumerating thirty-five specific grievances against Carbillet 
and the mandate government. Despite Martin’s ongoing investigation and 
the continued efforts of the inhabitants to voice their grievances, Sarrail had 
decided on his course of action. On the same day that he issued orders for the 
return of Carbillet, he ordered the French delegation in Damascus to sum- 
mon five Druze chiefs to Damascus. Hamad, Nasib, Mit'ib, ‘Abd al-Ghaffar, 
and Sultan al-Atrash were invited for a discussion of their grievances, but the 
actual intent was their capture and imprisonment. 26 

Just a week and a half after taking his post, Tommy Martin wrote to his 
colleague and friend Major Henri Dentz, predicting an uprising and express- 
ing his wish to leave Suwayda 3 as soon as possible. Martin refrained from di- 
rectly criticizing Sarrail, but he wrote that an uprising had become inevitable 
and that military repression was the only option at that late point. He point- 
edly refused to take responsibility for the inevitable and, most particularly, 
refused to guarantee the safety of Carbillet, whose return Sarrail had ordered. 
Martin did not get his wish to vacate Suwayda 3 . Instead, he was forced to re- 
main in the citadel of Suwayda 3 under siege until September. He dated his 
letter 17 July 1925, two days before the uprising began. 27 

Keeping his own counsel, Sarrail decided that setting a trap to arrest and 
imprison the most prominent Druze leaders would best prevent an uprising. 
He issued an invitation to negotiations to five Atrash chiefs. While Sultan 
refused and Mit'ib claimed illness, Hamad, Nasib, and Abd al-Ghaffar were 
seized at their hotel in Damascus. In the arrest order Sarrail wrote: “I re- 
quest you to summon the leaders to Damascus . . . under pretext of hearing 
their claims. You will tell them that I hold them responsible for any disorder 
that may occur in the Djebel, and shall hold them as guarantors in obligatory 
residence at a place you will designate.” 28 The place of obligatory residence 
turned out to be the prison at Palmyra. In justifying Sarrail’s actions, his sec- 
retary, Paul Coblentz, wrote: “It was not without reflection that this proce- 
dure was adopted. The annals of our Colonial, and our African, services would 
provide any number of analogous examples.” Normally such action would be 
the purview of the Intelligence Service, “where certain methods used in deal- 
ing with notorious bandits or agitators are certainly not always comparable 
with the methods used in similar cases in Europe.” 29 Sarrail apparently dis- 
trusted his Service des Renseignements subordinates and chose to deal with 
the matter personally. According to Coblentz, this was due to his deep sense 
of personal responsibility. 30 

Organizing for Resistance 


The reaction in southern Syria was immediate. As the three men were ar- 
rested, their relative Hasan al-Atrash rushed from Damascus to Suwayda 3 by 
car to spread the news . 31 Damascus was already abuzz with rumors of an up- 
rising. The following day the British consul in Damascus reported the seizure 
and wrote: 

The Druze situation has been manifestly mishandled by French colo- 
nial officialdom, which, apart from its inability to adapt itself to the 
particular conditions of the mountain, has, during the last six months, 
been afflicted by incoherence not at all in keeping with the logical real- 
ism of French colonial methods. It now appears decided to return to 
its traditions and solve the problem by force . 32 


It took more force than anyone could have imagined. Upon receiving con- 
firmation from Damascus, Sultan al-Atrash, who had spurned the summons 
and feared a trick, immediately began to mobilize resistance. After ignor- 
ing the call to Damascus, Mit'ib and Sultan had retreated to the village of 
Rassas, midway between Sultan’s village of al-Qraya and Suwayda 3 , the pro- 
vincial capital. They first returned to al-Qraya and assembled relatives and 
close allies. Then they moved south toward the frontier with Transjordan and 
east up into the mountain, stopping at the villages of al-Kafr, Baka, Umm al- 
Rumman, al-Ghariyya, Mashquq, Milah, and finally ‘Urman, as they skirted 
all the villages surrounding Salkhad, the second city of the Jabal and the site 
of a French gendarme garrison. Some villages refused to participate. They put 
banners on the roofs of their houses to show that they would not join and 
wanted no confrontations between insurgents and mandate troops in their 
villages . 33 

At each village the insurgents stopped and called on the male villagers 
to join them. They articulated the call to arms in traditional terms and con- 
sciously echoed the uprisings against the Ottoman government in the previ- 
ous century. Their goals may have extended beyond their mountain, but they 
utilized the language of Druze honor and Druze particularism. They rode 
into a village, assembled in the square, and began to sing war songs. 

It’s no secret, the wars have begun 
In the years past, the rebellion has lain 
Hidden in the depths of the valleys 


Mobilizing the Mountain 

Finally today, it is known 
To the peaks of the mountains. 34 

Sultan al-Atrash “captivated the determined, decided the reluctant, men- 
aced the resistant, and confronted all with the decisive argument, ‘The French 
are only 7,000 in all of Syria. With the support of Damascus, which will 
rise up, we will liberate our homeland from the foreigner.’” 35 Without ques- 
tion, the homeland he referred to meant different things to different people. 
To many villagers it surely meant no more than their mountain, and perhaps 
no more than their village. To many of the larger farmers, village shaykhs, 
and those with Damascene commercial connections, it meant all of southern 
Syria, especially the grain-producing Hawran, which they had dominated for 
generations. To a few former Ottoman officers and recipients of military edu- 
cation, like Muhammad ‘Izz al-Din al-Halabi or others who had been com- 
mitted partisans of Amir Faysal, it meant the whole of Greater Syria, from 
the Red Sea to the Taurus mountains. 

On 19 July, when they reached the village of ‘Urman, they were 250 horse- 
men. As they entered ‘Urman, a pair of reconnaissance airplanes circled the 
group. The insurgents fired on the airplanes, and one was hit and forced down 
in the nearby village of Mitan. Though the airplane crash-landed, its pilots 
survived and were taken by ‘Ali Mustafa al-Atrash (who was thirteen years 
old) to his family house, where he gave them refuge under his protection. 
Within about three hours villagers burned the unguarded airplane and tore 
it to pieces. Captain Narcisse Bouron, writing a few years later, explained 
this incident by claiming that the villagers of Mitan were friends of France 
and that other villagers destroyed the airplane. It seems likely, however, that 
Bouron failed to give young ‘Ali Mustafa al-Atrash and his fellow villagers 
their due. While ‘Ali protected the French aviators from angry villagers and 
insurgents until a prisoner exchange a month later, he joined the uprising 
immediately after. The French later exiled this same ‘Ali Mustafa al-Atrash 
until 1930 for his role in the revolt. It seems that while Bouron was writing 
down the story of this young “friend of France,” ‘Ali Mustafa was actually in 
exile. In 1935 ‘Ali Mustafa became the Hawran representative for the Central 
Committee for Aid to the Children of the Desert, which was the organiza- 
tion providing aid to the exiled rebel refugees living in Saudi Arabia. Hanna 
Abi Rashid quoted Ali Mustafa as saying, “If I had loved France, my cousins 
and the sons of my homeland are [even] more hallowed.” It seems to me that 
personal kindness and traditional hospitality shown to French aviators could 
quite easily have coexisted with burning resentment at French power and its 

Organizing for Resistance 


symbols of oppression— a surveillance airplane, for example. 36 In the follow- 
ing weeks, as French airplanes ceased surveillance and began bombing all Jabal 
villages, the residual loyalty of friendships with individual Frenchmen faded. 

The following day the insurgents entered Salkhad. As in all of the vil- 
lages before, they rode into the square and called on the inhabitants to join 
them. Many from Salkhad did join them, but that day their help was un- 
necessary. The French garrison of about forty officers and mandate employ- 
ees surrendered without a fight. The rebels burned and pillaged the buildings 
and archives of the French delegation and the police. 37 On 21 July the insur- 
gents moved north back up the mountain. They were joined by villagers from 
al-Kafr and by members of the bedouin tribes who lived on the agricultural 
fringes of the mountain and whom the Druze referred to as c arab al-jabal. 
Like the Druze, they were mixed horsemen and foot soldiers, mostly armed 
with German and Ottoman rifles left over from the war, but some were armed 
with nothing but swords. They carried the banners of their villages. 38 

Neither the rebel leaders nor the mandate authorities had a clear concep- 
tion of the direction and seriousness of the uprising at this early point. ‘Ubayd 
argued that while Sultan al-Atrash’s immediate goal was the release of the 
seized chiefs, the French in Suwayda 3 continued to consider the uprising a 
local disturbance. 39 On 20 July Commandant Tommy Martin sent a column 
of between 150 and 250 men under Captain Normand out from Suwayda 3 . 40 
They were ordered to march south toward Salkhad, retrieve the wounded 
pilots, and restore order generally. On the twenty-first Sultan al-Atrash sent 
emissaries to meet Normand at his encampment alongside the road near al- 
Kafr between Salkhad and Suwayda 3 . The emissaries accused the French of 
treachery over the arrests and proposed that Normand return to Suwayda 3 , 
where the rebels would enter negotiations over the release of the prisoners. 41 

Normand had his orders; and for whatever reason, he refused the offer 
of negotiations and prepared for an attack. At first light on the morning of 
22 July the Druze and bedouin rebels swept down from the surrounding hills 
and up from the valley and decimated the French camp. The battle was short: 
it was all over in thirty minutes. It is unclear how many people were involved. 
French sources claim more than 1,000 insurgents, while Arab sources indi- 
cate much smaller numbers; but the results were not disputed: the battle was 
bloody, and only a few among the French camp survived to straggle back to 
Suwayda 3 . A number of rebels were killed as well, including Sultan’s brother 
Mustafa. 42 

The next day the insurgents rode into Suwayda 3 , where they occupied the 
city and besieged the citadel, a siege that would last two months. While the 


Mobilizing the Mountain 

mandate authorities and their families holed up in the citadel, French air- 
planes bombed the surrounding city from the air. 43 Both the Druze of the 
mountain and the mandatory power in Damascus now realized that the up- 
rising was more serious than they had first thought. The success of the battle 
at al-Kafr brought those Druze chiefs who had been initially reluctant over 
to the side of the rebels. 44 The entire Jabal was now at war. 

The news of the battle traveled quickly. In Damascus and throughout the 
southern countryside the dramatic French defeat became common knowl- 
edge overnight. The Damascus bazaars were abuzz with excited rumors. 45 
The French closed the roads and severed all communication from Suwayda 5 ; 
as the result, “the most fantastic rumours [were] in circulation,” as the British 
consul claimed. 46 But what he called fantastic rumors turned out to be true. 
Damascenes quickly learned of the defeat of the Normand column; and news 
circulated that the Druze, in collaboration with the Sardiyya and al- Slut bed- 
ouin tribes, had control of all the Jabal and had moved onto the plain to 
threaten the Hijaz railway line at al-Mismiyya, only 50 kilometers south of 
Damascus. The consul dismissed the likelihood of Druze-bedouin coopera- 
tion; but like French authorities, he was apparently unaware of the complex 
social and commercial relations among the Druze, bedouin, Hawrani peas- 
ants, and Damascene merchants. As the uprising grew, the importance of 
these relations came to the fore. 

While a total news blackout prevailed, communication reverted to the 
old standby of rumor, the operative mode of any insurgency and the opera- 
tive mode of a population under military occupation. 47 Authorities threat- 
ened Damascus newspapers with immediate closure and the court-martial of 
their publishers if they printed any mention of the uprising. Meanwhile the 
French Delegation issued a press release and ordered it run in all newspapers. 
It asserted that the propaganda of Sultan al-Atrash did not reflect the actual 
feelings of the inhabitants of the Jabal and that the delegation had received 
many letters “proclaiming absolute loyalty to our cause.” Despite the lan- 
guage of this press release, no one, especially mandate civil servants, seemed to 
know precisely what the mandate cause in question represented. If the cause 
was only the attainment of the modest and idealistic aims of the League of 
Nations Permanent Mandates Commission, it was unclear how martial law; 
press censorship; bans on free association, political parties, and public gather- 
ings; the spectacle of public hangings; the deportation under death threat of 
political leaders ; and the aerial and artillery bombardment of innumerable vil- 
lages, including the eventual bombardment of Damascus itself, would serve 
these modest and laudable aims. 48 The press release went on to promise that 

Organizing for Resistance 


numerous acts of banditry committed by the rebels against the population 
who refused to take part in revolt would be answered by many tons of explo- 
sives visited upon the centers of dissidence. It concluded on a gloating note, 
informing readers that Mustafa al-Atrash, brother of Sultan, was dead and 
‘Ali, another brother, was gravely wounded. 

The positive effect of such notices on the mandate populace is doubt- 
ful, particularly since they contradicted the news that people received every 
day in the bazaars and in their neighborhoods. While the European consuls 
concentrated on, and publicized, the plight of Christian refugees from the 
Hawran, the populace of Damascus was excited and frightened by the possi- 
bility of the spread of revolt. And while the mandatory power and the British 
consul emphasized the divisiveness of revolt and the sectarian nature of what 
they characterized as Druze pillage and plunder, the revolt involved Druze 
villagers, Muslim bedouin, and at least a few Christian villagers from the be- 
ginning. An example is the Orthodox Christian mukhtar (village head) of the 
Hawran village al-Kharba, and friend of Sultan al-Atrash, ‘Uqla al-Qutami . 49 
He was in j ail until mid- August, when the Druze chiefs negotiated his release 
as part of a prisoner exchange, at which point he returned to the Hawran and 
immediately joined the insurgents. French authorities, apparently unable to 
credit that Christians could rally behind the enemies of the mandate, claimed 
that ‘Uqla al-Qutami was the bastard son of Mahmud Shibli al-Atrash and 
thus the cousin of Sultan . 50 

There were many cases of pillage of Hawran villages, and many villages 
suffered at the hands of both the insurgents and the mandate power. But the 
claim of a simple sectarian dichotomy is false and is in essence the core of 
colonial justification. France was the self-proclaimed protector of the “Ori- 
ental Christians.” If Christians, Muslims, and Druze could unite in resisting 
the mandate, the mandate mission itself would be rendered meaningless. The 
importance of sectarian and ethnic conflict was central to the role of France 
in Syria and was in practice and theory a matter of policy, manifested by the 
active recruitment of sectarian and non-Arab ethnic minorities (especially 
impoverished Armenian and Circassian refugees) to serve as shock troops in 
rebellious villages and later in the neighborhoods of Damascus . 51 

Villages menaced by insurgents appealed to mandate authorities for help. 
Mandate authorities, however, had limited resources, and rural security was 
less a priority than keeping train lines open, for example. In consequence, the 
mandate government provided weapons to Christian and especially Uniate 
villages so that they could defend themselves. Even without this policy, rebels 
perceived Uniate villages as French allies. The fact that a policy of arm- 


Mobilizing the Mountain 

mg Uniate villages aggravated sectarian tensions was actually beneficial for 
French interests. French public sources claimed repeatedly, in self-justifica- 
tion, that only the mandate power prevented massacres of Christians. And 
while Christian villages did suffer at the hands of the rebels, colonial methods 
of repression in rebellious villages, including Christian villages on occasion, 
were far more violent. 

By contrast, many villages welcomed the rebels and willingly supported 
and provisioned them, as allowed by their resources. The appearance of even- 
handedness was particularly important to the Druze because of their status 
as a minority sect, uncomfortably situated on the fringe of Islamic society. 
Sultan al-Atrash wrote at least one letter to the Greek Orthodox Patriarch 
of Damascus, calling attention to mandatory government crimes, apologiz- 
ing for rebel misdeeds, promising to compensate losses, guaranteeing security 
in the name of the insurgent government, and pledging to eliminate further 
problems. 52 It also bears mention that the mandate authorities actively sought 
to provoke and emphasize sectarian division between the Muslim majority in 
Damascus and the Druze. This task was rendered easier by a long history of 
animosity involving the Druze, the Ottoman state, and the governors of Da- 
mascus. Since the Druze were known for heresy and perennial resistance to 
outside authority, there is little doubt that some Syrians, particularly elites, 
viewed them not as heroes but as troublemakers. 

On 25 July General Roger Michaud, commander of the Armee du Levant, 
came to Damascus from Beirut with orders to assemble a punitive force to 
restore order in southern Syria. The French estimated 8,000 to 10,000 rebels 
and intended to put a heavily armed column of 3,000 troops under Michaud 
into the field. The rebel numbers, which British consul W. A. Smart received 
from French sources, were certainly exaggerated at this early point. The con- 
trast between these figures and the public notices mentioned above is ironic. 
While the mandatory government was busy proclaiming that the revolt was 
unrepresentative of the population and made up of only a few troublemak- 
ers, it was simultaneously reporting wildly exaggerated rebel numbers in its 
accounts of military engagements. The estimated 10,000 rebels would repre- 
sent nearly 25 percent of the total population of Jabal Hawran in the 1920s. 53 

As General Michaud assembled the column in Damascus, the rebels were 
busy making his job more difficult. The rumors of attacks on the Hijaz rail line 
were confirmed, and a train headed from Damascus for Dar'a on the southern 
border in the Hawran turned back due to destroyed track at al-Mismiyya. 54 
From the railhead at Azru‘, between Dar'a and al-Mismiyya, there was a 
paved road to Suwayda 3 . As of 29 July the rebels had destroyed a section of 
the rail line and parts of the new paved road between Azru‘ and Suwayda 3 . 

Organizing for Resistance 


The mandate government had recently built this road with corvee labor. 
Along with other improvement projects, Carbillet counted these roads among 
his reforms. They were built with forced unpaid labor— one of the most hated 
innovations of mandate rule and a grievance that came up repeatedly in com- 
plaints during and after the revolt. “Peasants resented the excessive amount 
of road work they were forced to do in lieu of taxation far more than they ap- 
preciated the advantage of roads available for wheeled vehicles which they did 
not possess.” 55 In consequence, the destruction of these roads was both tac- 
tically important and symbolically significant. Mandate authorities told the 
inhabitants of the Hawran that the roads were built for their benefit. With 
the best interests of villagers in mind, it was only fitting that they be forced 
to provide the labor; but the hollowness of this altruistic claim was clear to 
all at the first sight of an armored car or troop-laden wagon speeding along a 
recently completed road. 

Destruction of the rail line and the road slowed the progress of Michaud’s 
force of 3,500 men. Nonetheless, on 31 July the column began its march from 
Azru‘ to Suwayda’. The first stop was Busra al-Harir, where (owing to 
drought) the spring was dry. The midsummer heat was unbearable, but the 
column (which consisted of five battalions of infantry, three squadrons of cav- 
alry on the flanks, and armored cars and artillery at the rear) pressed on for 
a march of 25 kilometers and finally halted at al-Mazra‘a on 2 August. Al- 
Mazra'a is an agricultural village on the plain at the base of the Jabal about 12 
kilometers from Suwayda’. It lies in open country with little vegetation and 
little topographical variation. The view is clear from the slopes of the moun- 
tain, including Suwayda’, and movement on the plain is visible from many 
kilometers away. As the column halted, 500 Druze and bedouin horsemen at- 
tacked, killing and wounding a number of French troops. The French force 
eventually drove off the attack. 

Early the following day, rebel attacks forced a supporting ammunition col- 
umn at the rear to retreat to Azruk Under August sun, with little water and 
no rear support and suffering continuous low-level attacks, Michaud decided 
to abandon the short advance on Suwayda’ and make the lengthier return to 
Azru‘ . Once the rebels saw that the column was retreating, they attacked with 
full force and routed the column in its entirety. Michaud was in full retreat; 
and his second in command, Major Jean Aujac (commander of a Malagasy 
unit, which he had reported to Sarrail was unfit for combat), was left behind 
to cover the retreat. The Malagasy unit was destroyed, its survivors panicked 
and fled, and Aujac shot himself in the field. 56 

The rebels gained 2,000 rifles with ammunition and supplies, a number 

6 4 

Mobilizing the Mountain 

of machine guns, and some artillery. But they also gained something else: 
the breathless attention of the entire country. The inhabitants of Damascus 
knew of the defeat of Michaud’s force overnight. Much of the capital and the 
surrounding countryside soon joined the revolt. In the following months the 
revolt spread to include nearly all the territories under French mandate. Dis- 
entangling the events of those months, and the people who took part, is the 
concern of the following chapters. 


Mobilizing the City 

Appeal from the Womens Society to Damascus 

O Arabs, descendants of glorious ancestors, we appeal to you to 
awake in these critical times of great tragedy under the government of 
France. There is nothing left to us but to mount a vigorous attack and 
expel this government from our country. 

O People, this is an auspicious moment, we must not let it pass. To 
Arms! To Arms! The time has come to realize what you have promised 
to yourselves. 

O People, your brother Arabs of the countryside have made an 
appeal to your courage. Unleash your arms before the enemy who has 
invaded our homes, set fire to our temples of God, and tread on our 
sacred books . . . 

— Excerpt from a notice distributed in 
the Damascus bazaar ; j August 1925 1 

N otices like this appeared in Damascus repeatedly during August 1925. 
Such appeals demonstrate the existence of a sophisticated but not 
necessarily widespread nationalist consciousness. Despite repeated 
entreaties, the notices seemed to have little effect. The language, or perhaps 
the medium of transmission, failed to incite Damascenes to rise against the 
mandate power. The nationalist leadership of Damascus produced a number 
of such documents, but the same leaders were unwilling or unable to lead the 
armed revolt that they invoked so passionately. While the popular quarters of 
Damascus would eventually rise against mandate rule, they would not do so 
behind the nationalist elite of the capital but rather behind armed villagers 
and militants from their own quarters. 

Damascus remained generally quiet through August, but the French pop- 
ulation was deeply demoralized. Military resources were woefully inadequate 
to suppress the uprising in the countryside; there were few reinforcements 
on the immediate horizon; and despite French insistence that disorders were 


Mobilizing the City 

the work of a small number of Druze criminals and bandits, the actions 
of the mandate power betrayed a well-founded suspicion of the whole of 
Syrian society. The Hawran Druze were rumored to be collaborating with 
and receiving supplies from the bedouin, the nationalists, the Hashemites, the 
Turks, the Russians, and the English . 2 There was little coordination of man- 
date policy and enforcement. When Captain Huguenot, the officer in charge 
of the Hawran garrison at Daria, ordered all European women to evacuate 
the Hawran for their safety, Sarrail sacked him for causing a panic . 3 Sarrail 
himself ordered Damascus streets strung with barbed wire and the govern- 
ment buildings encircled with it. 

Agitation and resistance also increased outside Damascus during August. 
Attacks took place on the roads leading from Damascus; and intelligence 
sources claimed that Zayd al-Atrash, brother of Sultan, planned to invade the 
region of Damascus and burn the airfield in al-Maza . 4 Attacks by unnamed 
bandits began in the region of Hums to the north and continued through- 
out Hawran. In Hums inflammatory nationalist tracts appeared, urging the 
“nation to rise and throw oft the chains of tyranny.” The mandate authori- 
ties arrested four teenaged boys, two of whom were sons of Hashim al-Atasi, 
nationalist politician and former partisan of Amir Faysal . 5 Rumors flew of 
imminent attacks on Damascus and the swelling of the insurgent ranks with 
bedouin horsemen from the major tribes of Greater Syria, the Bani Sakhr, and 
the Ruwala. Sultan al-Atrash was reported in Damascus, in Amman, and in 
his village. The French authorities panicked and blamed all disturbances on 
the Druze, a pattern that was to continue throughout the rebellion. British 
diplomatic dispatches noted that the bands that had appeared in the country- 
side “are always accused of being Druses, but they are probably many kinds — 
Druses, bedouins, villagers, deserters from the Syrian Legion, bad characters 
from the towns. The universal misery, caused by the present disastrous eco- 
nomic situation ... is everywhere arming the people against authority .” 6 

Meanwhile the nationalist elites of the capital tried to decide what to do. 
The mandate government had legalized political parties only months before. 
Damascene nationalists had formed a new party, Hizb al-Sha‘b (the People’s 
Party), and emerged into the open for the first time since the defeat of Faysal’s 
government five years before. French intelligence reports show that the party 
counted some of Damascus’ most prominent and wealthy citizens among its 
members. And yet very few of the landowning elite took part in the revolt 
or were arrested by the mandate government. Those few of the younger gen- 
eration of the elite who did take part (men like Nasib al-Bakri, Shukri al- 
Quwwatli, and Jamil Mardam Bek) were pardoned almost immediately after 



by the mandate government, and their confiscated property was returned. 
Most members were understandably hesitant to jeopardize the small breath- 
ing space that they had so recently gained. They spent the month of August 
debating a course of action; while a few advocated a path of militant action, 
most were uncomfortable with the risks of such a course— a concern that 
turned out to be well founded. Those who eventually took part in the revolt 
were mostly merchants, intellectuals, and journalists; and while the former 
military officers among them urged militant resistance alongside armed peas- 
ants, such prospects could not have been appealing to many. After the revolt 
and the exile of its leaders, the landowning elite of the capital and the truly 
wealthy who had stood apart from the revolt would form the National Bloc 
and take up positions of leadership and moderate opposition to the mandate. 

In the weeks leading up to the revolt, national leadership belonged to the 
members of the People’s Party. The meaning of national leadership was clearly 
contentious, however, as many argued for caution, and a few (who were of 
similar background and age as the rebels of the countryside) argued for armed 
opposition. French intelligence records indicate a clear split between party 
members. Older members of the landowning elite advocated negotiation and 
accommodation and tried to diffuse the increasingly volatile situation by re- 
course to the French government, the Senate, and the League of Nations, 
while younger men, often of more modest mercantile or military background, 
sought a more militant response. In the end, events forced the situation. This 
chapter outlines the halting first steps of an unprecedented union between 
city and countryside, as the nationalist leaders of Damascus tried hesitantly 
to breathe life into a movement they could not control. When militant resis- 
tance finally emerged, most of the nationalist elite of Damascus was forced 
to follow rather than to lead. 


The old city of Damascus is oval and enclosed by ancient walls. Its narrow 
ends face west and east. The limestone mountain that looms over the city, 
Jabal Qasyun, is 3 kilometers to the northwest. Along the lower slopes of 
the mountain lie several modern neighborhoods, including ‘Arnus and al- 
Salihiyya. The French military headquarters and artillery batteries were in 
these neighborhoods. Farther up the slopes of the mountain lie neighbor- 
hoods settled by immigrants and refugees in Damascus during the nineteenth 
century, including al-Muhajirfn, al-Sharkassiya, and al-Akrad. West of the 
city, and next to the mountain, the Barada River, the source of Damascus’ 


Mobilizing the City 

water and the life-spring of 8,000 years of human settlement, emerges from a 
narrow winding valley that cuts through the Anti-Lebanon mountains. The 
railroad and auto route to Beirut follow the river. The river splits ofF into six 
streams that flow through the city and along its walls, watering its gardens 
and public fountains. Once outside the city, its streams irrigate dense gardens 
and orchards on the north, east, and south. This area is the Ghuta, and its 
orchards and villages provided sustenance for the insurgency of 1925. 

South of the old city, the medieval neighborhoods of Bab Musalla, May- 
dan Fawqani, and Maydan Tahtani (upper and lower Maydan) stretch along 
the road south like a finger pointing from the hand of the city. The road 
extends to Hawran and Transjordan and to the Hijaz beyond. In the cen- 
turies before air travel and national borders, pilgrims to Mecca traveled the 
road each year, and farmers and merchants traveled the road each day as they 
brought Damascus its food. When farmers and merchants became armed in- 
surgents, they continued to use the road to transmit news, information, and 
weapons and to enter and exit the city. For two years the neighborhood of 
Maydan, which flanks the road, was the heart of the rebellion in Damascus. 
Maydan was the neighborhood with the closest cultural and geographical ties 
to Hawran, and the principal business of Maydan was the distribution and 
export of Hawrani grain. 

The tattered remains of Michaud’s force passed through the southern 
neighborhoods of Maydan in retreat. Sarrail blocked news of Michaud’s de- 
feat from both the Paris and Damascus newspapers. News leaked out slowly 
over the coming month as Paris newspapers learned of the disaster, first from 
the English papers and later from reports trickling in from Syria and from 
Sarrail’s many enemies in the army and Foreign Ministry. 7 After a series of 
taciturn telegrams claiming that the situation was calm and under control, 
the Foreign Ministry at the Quai d’Orsay demanded a fuller accounting from 
Sarrail. 8 In spite of the news blackout, word of the destruction of Michaud’s 
force reached Damascus instantly. Merchants in the bazaars spread the news 
of the defeat and failure of the French military, and Damascenes passed writ- 
ten notices from hand to hand. Damascus was already restive in any case; 
the appeal reproduced at the head of this chapter circulated in the market on 
the same day as the defeat of Michaud’s column and before any news from the 
south could have arrived. 


Meanwhile the nationalist People’s Party held both public and closed meet- 
ings at nearly daily intervals. The closed meetings were supposedly secret, 

The People's Party 


though they took place in the same party headquarters as the public meet- 
ings did. French intelligence reports contain detailed minutes of both sorts 
of meetings. Although a few of the eventual urban rebels and political lead- 
ers emerged from the party, its nationalist fervor was necessarily lukewarm, 
as reflected in the reports of its public and secret meetings in early August. 
Members debated such things as illegal acts committed in their name, includ- 
ing the distribution of anti-mandate nationalist tracts, popularly believed to 
originate with the party. They also sought French metropolitan and League 
of Nations intervention to diffuse the situation in Syria. 

The intelligence records of the Party meetings pose a puzzle. The innocu- 
ous content suggests either that the People’s Party was far less militant than 
many members later claimed or, alternately, that meetings served to camou- 
flage the party members’ secret activities, perhaps even from one another. 
There may have been more than one party: a public party and one or more 
secret cells within it. Spies infiltrated public meetings and closed meetings, 
but there were also secret sessions at the houses of party members. 

The members of the People’s Party already had long experience in loosely 
organized secret organizations. The first underground meetings of the party 
had coincided with the arrival of Sarrail as high commissioner in January 1925; 
but Dr. ‘Abd al- Rahman al-Shahbandar, the party president, and other party 
members had organized secret political organizations under Ottoman rule. 
Many had supported the Arab Revolt during the First World War and took 
jobs in Faysal’s government after the end of Ottoman rule. Generally they 
were not among the Damascene elites who had opposed Faysal’s government, 
and most of them remained friendly with the Hashemites. 9 

In June they emerged as an officially condoned political party. The open- 
ing celebration for the party took place on 5 June 1925, and at least 1,000 
attended. 10 The opening ceremony, like the public meetings, professed gen- 
eral goals of Syrian sovereignty, unity, freedom, civil rights, and protection 
for Syrian trade and industry. In actuality, the People’s Party centered around 
two related issues: the independence and the unity of Syria within its natural 
borders, by which they meant the geographical area stretching from al- ‘Aqaba 
to the Taurus Mountains, under British and French mandate in Transjordan, 
Palestine, Syria, and Lebanon. Arguably, the Syrian public understood and 
supported these goals, though in public speeches and proclamations the party 
leaders were more circumspect. 11 

Independence was the central goal of the party, but few members expected 
to be the ones personally to expel the French from Syria. Most, though not 
all, were content to hold secret meetings and debate and strategize endlessly: 


Mobilizing the City 

while they were the radicals among elite Syrian urban society, few were mili- 
tants. The single aim that most agreed on was independence, and any further 
goal or program risked disunity and division. Political mobilization was based 
on slogans and noton detailed programs. Party life was stunted by the day-to- 
day reality of military occupation and geographical partition, and the vague 
policies and lack of party formation around common interests were much less 
a symptom of political immaturity than a result of colonial domination. A 
party based on the goals of social transformation would have been the site of 
contentious negotiations, while most segments of Syrian society could agree 
on independence and unity. Still, both aims, explicitly stated, were anathema 
to the mandate power; and Syrian political leaders knew well that to be effec- 
tive they had to avoid exile and prison. 

The French had already imprisoned Shahbandar, the party president, for a 
year and a half, releasing him in mid-1924. A military court sentenced him to 
twenty years in prison for his vocal opposition to the mandate and for suspi- 
cious foreign contacts. 12 After his release, he traveled to Europe and America 
to build support for Syrian independence. Back in Syria, and at the head of a 
new party made up of leading nationalist Damascenes, Shahbandar tried to 
keep his head down. While keeping a low profile, he and other party members 
cultivated secret ties with nationalist-minded Druze in the southern country- 
side. Shahbandar and his colleagues had limited experience as members of a 
legitimate political party, but they had years of experience as members of a 
secret opposition. While they held public party meetings with open doors, 
and closed meetings under party auspices as well, there were also meetings 
held under strictest secrecy at various locations. They met at the houses of 
members both inside and outside Damascus. 13 


At the beginning of May 1925 Amir Hamad al-Atrash, the displaced popu- 
lar choice as Jabal governor, traveled to Damascus and met Shahbandar at 
the house of Qasim al-Haymani, publisher of the Damascus newspaper al- 
Fayha} A Shahbandar later wrote that they discussed igniting an uprising. 
Several more meetings followed at Shahbandar ’s house in the Damascus 
neighborhood of Arnus, which was, and is, a modern quarter situated along 
the lower slopes of Jabal Qasyun, 3 kilometers away from the higher- density 
medieval neighborhoods of the old city. A number of Druze leaders and 
nationalist politicians attended the meetings, including many of those later 
of central importance in the revolt. Shahbandar listed Abd al-Ghaffar al- 

Making Contact with the Countryside 


Atrash, Mit'ib al-Atrash, Nasib al-Atrash, Abu Hamdi Sayf al- Aysmi, Sa'id 
Haydar, and others. 15 

Shahbandar recorded that their discussions focused on sparking armed re- 
volt throughout mandate Syria. While this may have been true— and all of 
the men he listed later willingly opposed the mandate with armed force — 
there were apparently other, perhaps more pressing, matters under discussion. 
Though most participants in the revolt (and later Arab chroniclers) were loath 
to admit it, the notion of Syrian unity and independence was often a hard sell 
among the Druze, for whom independence had usually meant independence 
from any central authority— Ottoman, French, or Damascene. Shahbandar 
makes it clear that their concerns were often purely local and focused on their 
opposition to the French administration in the Jabal, rather than on the wider 
issues of unity and opposition to French occupation generally. The meetings 
were an opportunity for nationalist and integrationist-minded Druze leaders 
to call on charismatic Damascene nationalists to help sway their less con- 
vinced brethren to accept the need for integration into the larger Syrian polity. 
References to prerevolt meetings appear in a number of sources. With few ex- 
ceptions, recent historians ignore these meetings and fail to explain precisely 
the contacts between nationalist politicians and the countryside. 16 

The meetings were part strategy sessions, part nationalist education ses- 
sions. Sultan al-Atrash and a small number of Druze chiefs had formed strong 
ties with Damascene nationalists in the years surrounding the First World 
War. Beginning in the 1860s, the Druze in Jabal Hawran had been in the 
forefront of a new and expanding agricultural export trade. They forged ties 
based on commerce in grain with a number of prominent and emerging mer- 
chant families in Damascus. It was the Hawran Druze who, sometimes act- 
ing as war profiteers, supplied the British-funded Arab army during the war 
with bread. They also fed thousands of refugees and gave Arab fugitives from 
the Ottoman government sanctuary in the safety of their mountain. The war- 
time governor of Syria hanged a number of suspected nationalists, and many 
sought refuge in Jabal Hawran on their way out of the country. 

Meetings between Druze leaders and Damascene nationalists before the 
revolt helped foster growing nationalist sentiment in Jabal Hawran. The 
Druze petition of 15 June 1925 shows evidence of increasing Syrian nation- 
alism among the normally separatist and independent-minded Druze. The 
petition was concerned with the whole of the Syrian nation and advocated 
the total integration of Jabal Hawran with Damascus and Syria generally. It 
cited economic ties based on agriculture and trade as well as the common- 
ality of language and history. 17 The petition continued to cite ties between 


Mobilizing the City 

the Jabal and the desert and to request a basic law, an end to arbitrary judg- 
ment and imprisonment, the guarantee of personal freedom and freedom of 
speech, and finally, and of course most importantly, the permanent replace- 
ment of Carbillet with Raynaud. This petition, unsuccessful though it was, 
led to the formation of al-Jam'iyya al-Wataniyya (the Patriotic Club) in the 
Jabal, a name with solid nationalist associations despite its local membership, 
horizons, and goals. 18 The signatories of the petition and the members of the 
club were all residents of Jabal Hawran; no Damascenes were involved. The 
signatories coincide closely with the men that Shahbandar claimed visited 
him at his home in May and June 1925. 

The relationship between the southern countryside and Damascus was 
mutual. The petition of Druze notables indicates that they envisioned the 
union of the countryside with the city as one between equals based on his- 
torical trade relations. They did not expect to be dominated; and as Dama- 
scenes entered the uprising, they willingly cooperated with the Druze rebels. 
When the revolt began, Sultan al-Atrash made the first contacts. After the 
destruction of the Normand column at al-Kafr, Sultan al-Atrash sent let- 
ters to Nasib al-Bakri and Shahbandar. Bakri was a member of the People’s 
Party, a friend of Sultan al-Atrash, and Amir Faysal’s envoy to Jabal Hawran 
between 1917 and 1920. 19 He appears rarely in the French reports of party 
meetings, but among the party members he was one of the most committed 
to armed revolt. Bakri received letters dated 23 July 1925; and a meeting fol- 
lowed at the Bakri house in their village of al-Qabun just outside Damas- 
cus in the Ghuta, at which time the Bakris decided to join the revolt. Nasib 
al-Bakri then delivered Sultan al-Atrash’s letter to Shahbandar. After some 
contemplation, Shahbandar committed the People’s Party to the insurgency. 
He wrote: “We are ready for death, all of us, in the cause of raising the bea- 
con of the nation and the homeland. We will share in the uprising and join 
the Jabal al-Duruz. And from today onward, we will appeal to Syria’s leaders 
to join the revolution.” 20 While Shahbandar clearly saw his role as propagan- 
dist and spokesman, a few Damascene nationalists were committed to armed 
struggle and went to the Jabal within days to join the Druze in battle against 
the French. The Damascene jurist and historian Zafir al-Qasimi, drawing on 
French court judgments, demonstrates that young Damascenes Sa'id Haydar, 
Hasan al-Hakim, Ahmad ‘Umar, and Tawfiq al-Halabi were in the Jabal for 
the battle of al-Mazra‘a and defeat of Michaud’s force on 3 August 1925. 21 

Meanwhile party members still resident in Damascus were involved in a 
complicated double game between the insurgents and the mandate authority. 
For a month between late July and late August, they served as the rebels’ liai- 

Making Contact with the Countryside 


son to Damascus, while walking a thin line with the French, a restive popu- 
lace, and Damascus’ traditional landowning notable leadership, both inside 
and outside the party. There is no doubt that the greater part of Damascus’ 
traditional landowning elite, particularly those of the older generation, had 
little enthusiasm for popular politics or armed revolt and was more comfort- 
able negotiating with French civil servants than plotting collaboration with 
armed peasants. Even among People’s Party members, there was no consensus 
on a course of action. The most committed of Damascene nationalists were 
reluctant armed insurgents. Most had significant material and social interests 
to consider, and they only acted decisively when they had no other choice. 
The few who were ready for armed resistance went and helped to convince 
the Druze to keep fighting. Most of the rest, including Shahbandar, stayed in 
Damascus. They acted when they had to: when the police came in the night, 
and they scattered under threat of arrest and imprisonment. Before the arrests 
of late August, they held a series of meetings, which the Service des Ren- 
seignements meticulously observed and documented. The meetings’ minutes 
read like exquisitely choreographed disinformation sessions — sessions per- 
haps aimed at the French or perhaps aimed at one another within the party. 

The meeting of 6 August is representative. 22 After some general discus- 
sion of the precarious financial situation, someone makes terse mention of the 
defeat of French troops in Jabal Druze. There is little discussion of this obvi- 
ously earthshaking news, and the conversation quickly turns to what the party 
can do to calm inflamed spirits. A speaker mentions the necessity of learn- 
ing the names of people and tradesmen fomenting unrest in the bazaars in 
the name of the People’s Party and advocating closing the markets to protest 
the mandate government. Lutfi al-Haffar, a prominent merchant, speaks up 
and declares that the principal provocateur is a small merchant named ‘Umar 
Hashim, who is approaching bankruptcy owing to the financial crisis. Fie is 
a member of the Syrian Unity Party (Hizb al-Wahda al-Suriyya), the pro- 
mandate puppet party set up by mandate authorities as a counterweight to 
Hizb al-Sha‘b. ‘Umar Hashim has claimed that the People’s Party advocates 
closing the markets. The party president, Dr. Shahbandar, interrupts and in- 
sists that they must be certain that ‘Umar Hashim is guilty before they de- 
nounce him to the authorities. Lutfi al-Haffar declares that he speaks for the 
merchants of Suq Midhat Basha, who have been solicited by ‘Umar Hashim 
to close their shops in accordance with a directive of the People’s Party. One 
does not need much imagination to suppose that the very purpose of this ex- 
change was to denounce ‘Umar Hashim to the authorities. 23 

The so-called secret meetings were hardly more subversive. They focused 


Mobilizing the City 

on internal party matters, and particularly on the conditions in the mar- 
kets and the conditions for trade in Damascus. The reports demonstrate that 
inasmuch as the People’s Party represented any particular constituency, it 
was the merchants of Damascus, who were accustomed to extensive trade 
with the southern countryside and who had been gravely hurt by drought 
and by the continued inflationary slide of the Syrian currency, pegged to the 
French franc. The merchants continually protested the actions of mandate 
government by mass-closings of their shops. Whether or not the party orches- 
trated such protests, it had to give the impression that it did not condone 
them. On 30 July, in a closed party meeting, Lutfi al-Haffar noted that he 
sought to “counsel [his fellow shopkeepers] to stay open, but he knew that a 
significant number of small merchants are creditors to the Druze. They serve 
as banks to their debtors, and they rely upon their payments. Therefore they 
are required to close their shops [to show solidarity with their principal cus- 
tomers] .” 24 A few days later al-Haffar reported that he had been detained and 
questioned by the police in connection with the distribution of propaganda 
in the bazaars. He claimed that he protested to the contrary, that he had ac- 
tively urged his friends to keep calm and avoid trouble. 25 

The connections among merchants, journalists, and rebels were impor- 
tant, and the French understood this too. Intelligence officers had a num- 
ber of merchants under surveillance, in addition to Lutfi al-Haffar, including 
Abduh al-Nuri, a Maydani grain merchant who was said to be an intimate 
friend of Sultan al-Atrash and a frequent visitor to Jabal Hawran. He was 
later reported to have evaded surveillance and joined the rebels. 26 Merchants 
and journalists made up the most militant members of the People’s Party, 
and both groups were deeply involved in the uprising from its earliest stages. 
Damascenes got their information from the newspapers or in the markets; 
and merchants and journalists played a central role in popular resistance and 
agitation in Damascus. By late August the newspapers still in print were pub- 
lishing the most innocuous fare imaginable; the mandate power shut down 
the best newspaper in Damascus, al-Muqtabas, on 18 August. Its editor, Najib 
al-Rayyis, was soon jailed along with other People’s Party members. 27 Damas- 
cus was alight with fantastic rumors; while Syrians waited with anxiety and 
excitement for events to unfold, the entire French population was gripped by 
panic and fear. 


The desperate situation drove the French to seek peace negotiations. The first 
efforts at negotiations failed, and the rebels refused to talk with the Leban- 

Hawran Peace Negotiations 


ese Druze delegation sent by the French. Sarrail then authorized ‘Abdallah 
Najjar, former public education director in the Jabal, to test Druze opinion 
and secure the exchange of prisoners. 28 On n August Najjar returned to the 
French garrison at Azru‘ with the Druze request that former Jabal governor 
Captain Raynaud accompany him and open peace talks with the Druze lead- 
ers. 29 Sarrail had sacked Raynaud on suspicion of intriguing against the return 
of Carbillet after the disturbances of early July; but desperate times called 
for desperate measures, and Sarrail authorized his return as chief negotiator. 
The following day Raynaud and Najjar returned to Umm Walad, where the 
exchange and talks would take place. 

A group of five Druze shaykhs representing the five most powerful fami- 
lies met with Raynaud, Najjar, and Yusuf Shidyaq. According to Raynaud, 
Sultan al-Atrash was not directly involved. Negotiations began with an ex- 
change of prisoners. The mandate authority asked for the return of all military 
prisoners, the right to bury the dead still on the field from the battles at al-Kafr 
and al-Mazra‘a, the cessation of hostile acts, and the evacuation of fifty civil- 
ians from the citadel of Suwayda 3 . The Druze delegation asked for the release 
of ten prisoners from the Suwayda 3 citadel detained since 3 July, in addition to 
the Druze shaykhs seized at Damascus and imprisoned at Palmyra. Some of 
those present protested the absence of Hamad al-Atrash, the popular leader of 
the Druze community (Raynaud noted that “the majority of the Druze chiefs 
called [him] Amir Hamad”). The following day he joined the negotiations. 

On 14 August they exchanged prisoners at the Hawran village of Umm 
Walad. The Druze released fifty-three military prisoners, including six French 
metropole soldiers and one officer. There were some difficulties, as Hamad 
Amr appeared with three hundred armed horsemen and demanded to know 
why there was not a one-to-one exchange of prisoners. Raynaud claimed that 
his personal intervention calmed the potentially volatile situation. Following 
the exchange of prisoners, the Druze returned to the village of ‘Ara, where 
the non- Arabic-speaking Raynaud described a scene of buccaneer bacchana- 
lia, as more than two thousand Druze horsemen — wearing swords and revol- 
vers and slinging bandoliers — celebrated the return of their jailed chiefs with 
songs and revelry. It is certain that no one translated the songs for Raynaud, 
for they could not possibly have been complimentary to France. He noted 
that the celebration lasted all through the night and that it was impossible to 
continue negotiations. 30 

The negotiations continued in the following days. Raynaud’s report is 
comical and tragic in its efforts to show how highly the Druze honored him 
and how sincerely they entered into the negotiations. Both he and the Druze 

figure 4 . Hawran rebel celebration after the release of several detained insurgents. 
Man on horseback is Hilal al-Atrash, shaykh of the rebellious Jabal Hawran village of 
Rassas. 14 August 1925. Courtesy Archives du Ministere des Affaires Etrangeres — 
Paris, Fonds iconographique. 

negotiators evidently expressed deep regrets at the “grave misunderstanding” 
that had befallen the region owing to the tyrannical despotism of Raynaud’s 
various predecessors and superiors— especially, of course, Carbillet. Druze 
peace conditions for the mandate power ran to twelve items and included a 
demand to keep their weapons and the freedom to enter union with the state 
of Syria, understood to mean Damascus. Two accounts of the negotiations 
are extant: that of Hanna Abi Rashid and that of Raynaud. Each lists the 
same demands, but Abi Rashid makes no mention of the condition that Ray- 
naud be reinstated as governor of the Jabal. It figures prominently in Ray- 
naud’s list of demands. 31 Raynaud’s military superiors could not have been 
well disposed to a smug subordinate who reported commiserating with ene- 
mies of the mandate about “grave misunderstandings” that had left more than 
a thousand French colonial soldiers dead and, more importantly, had already 
destroyed several military careers. After further discussion the Druze dele- 
gation declared that the French conditions for submission were acceptable 
with the exception of a few minor points, most particularly the indemnity of 
5,000 gold Turkish pounds. They expected eventual agreement on all points 
and recessed for the allotted thirty-six hours. 32 Raynaud returned to Damas- 
cus with the Druze demands. 

Hawran Peace Negotiations 


The Druze exceeded by a day the thirty-six hours allotted to them. Ray- 
naud’s worry and exasperation are clear from his report. What had started as 
a cordial discussion of misunderstandings and self-reported lavish praise of 
Captain Raynaud was spinning out of his control. When he returned to the 
negotiation table after a number of stalls and false starts, he had begun to dis- 
trust his interpreter, ‘Abdallah Najjar, and had begun to worry about “foreign 
influences” destroying the good work that they had already accomplished and 
leading the Druze astray. After the close of the day’s talks, Raynaud visited 
Sultan al-Atrash, who, Raynaud claimed, was sincere in his desire to make 
peace but who respectfully requested a further delay until the next meeting. 
Meanwhile Raynaud reported the shadowy presence of “foreign elements” 
(by which he meant any non-Druze) on the fringes of the meetings and 
among the people he met, including a bizarre and mysterious doctor, who, he 
reported, was a Jewish journalist for a German newspaper. For Raynaud, a 
right-wing member of the French officer corps, the presence of this man was 
the most unfavorable sign imaginable. 33 

Raynaud broke off negotiations in disgust on 20 August. He declared that 
he had no further interest in useless meetings and that the negotiators had in- 
sufficient force of will to prevent the ignorant masses of their community from 
being fooled and dragged into hostilities by the People’s Party, all of whom 
were Francophobes and most of whom were simply xenophobes. 34 He seems 
not to have realized that it was perhaps he who had been fooled by provid- 
ing ten days without aerial bombardment of Hawran and Jabal Hawran. In 
the following days Raynaud reported aerial reconnaissance showing the mass- 
ing of rebels in the region. While a few Damascene members of the People’s 
Party joined the rebels in the Jabal, bedouin from the Bani Sakhr tribe and 
the Bani Hasan arrived as well. Muhammad al-Zu‘bi, Muslim shaykh of the 
Hawran village of al-Masayfra, also arrived with horsemen; and Sultan al- 
Atrash was said to have sent special envoys to insure smooth relations between 
villagers and rebels in the northern Jabal villages around Shahba, where they 
assembled. Bedouin rebels had moved their tents near Jabal villages, and the 
emissaries made sure that relations between villagers and their bedouin guests 
remained trouble-free. 35 

Raynaud had recorded the presence of Damascene nationalists at the ne- 
gotiations of 18 August. Tawfiq al-Halabi, Zaki al-Durubi, and As'ad al- 
Bakrf, all People’s Party members, had arrived and met with Sultan al-Atrash 
two days earlier, on 16 August, at Shahba on the northern edge of the Jabal. It 
is unclear who was persuading whom; but, during a notably successful nego- 
tiation, they agreed to meet before dawn on the morning of 24 August at the 


Mobilizing the City 

village of Hawsh al-Matbin outside Damascus with a mixed force of Dama- 
scenes, Druze, bedouin, and Hawranis. Shahbandar, ‘Ubayd, and Raynaud 
each claimed that the Damascenes persuaded Sultan al-Atrash to sabotage 
negotiations with Raynaud. 36 The evidence for Damascene persuasion and 
Druze reluctance is formidable, and yet each writer had good reasons to em- 
phasize the role of Damascenes and downplay the role of the Druze in spread- 
ing the revolt. Shahbandar was trying to unify disparate forces behind his 
leadership and had every reason for emphasizing the contribution of Damas- 
cus to a struggle that appeared to many to be sectarian and local. ‘Ubayd may 
have sought the same goal and perhaps wished to shield the early leaders of 
the revolt from criticism for the retribution that the French visited upon the 
Hawran. Raynaud had the most powerful reasons of all to show the Druze 
had been duped by the nationalists, rather than admitting that he had been 
duped by the Druze. The actions of the rebels during and before negotiations 
belie the contention that they were seduced to continue their fight against 
the mandate power. 

The most militant members of the People’s Party were ready to drive the 
French from Syria. Tawfiq al-Halabi, Zaki al-Durubi, and As'ad al-Bakri 
had come to stay with the Druze shaykhs during negotiations. They were 
more committed to armed revolt than most Damascene nationalists. But they 
were also younger and less likely to be convincing as true national leaders, 
like ‘Abd al-Rahman al- Shahbandar, or the few others of towering national- 
ist stature. Of the three, only Zaki al-Durubi survived the uprising. Durubi 
was a former Ottoman and Arab army artillery officer and a graduate of the 
Damascus military school and the Ottoman military college. Fie was the son 
of an army officer from Hums, but he was born in Anatolia. He had sought 
refuge in Jabal Hawran during the war, served in Faysal’s government, and 
fought at Maysalun. Since 1920 he had worked under the qa’immaqdm. of 
Zabadani outside Damascus. Other sources indicate that the qaimmaqam he 
served was Druze insurgent leader Muhammad Tzz al-Din al-Halabi, who 
graduated from the Ottoman military college the same year. Tawfiq al-Halabi 
was born in the Qaymariyya quarter of Damascus and worked as a journalist. 
He fled Jamal Basha’s hangings of suspected nationalists during the war with 
Dr. Shahbandar and, like Durubi, spent time in the safety of Jabal Hawran 
with Sultan al-Atrash. He was in Cairo for most of the war, returned to Da- 
mascus with Faysal in 1920, and was immediately jailed by the French. He was 
killed fighting in the Ghuta in 1926. As' ad al-Bakri was Nasib’s and Fawzi’s 
younger brother, and he too was killed during the revolt. All three were young 
and outwardly similar to those among the Hawran Druze most committed 

Hawran Peace Negotiations 


to armed struggle. Durubi and Halabi, like almost all the revolt leaders, were 
bom within a few years of 1890. They had both come of age during the First 
World War and the collapse of the Ottoman state. 37 

The militants in both camps dragged and cajoled their more cautious 
comrades behind them, and it is reasonable to suppose that an actual dialogue 
took place between the militant nationalists and the Druze leadership. 38 A 
good amount of evidence supports the notion that the nationalists and the 
Druze, inspired by dizzying success in defeating mandate forces, persuaded 
one another. According to all the Arab sources, Sultan al-Atrash contacted 
the Damascene nationalists before they contacted him. ‘Ubayd, in listing 
the reasons behind the common decision to bring the rebellion to Damas- 
cus, undermines his own contention that the Damascenes sold the reluctant 
Druze on expansion. 

A. They wanted to popularize the revolt and split apart the French 
forces between them and take the revolt to victory after victory 
throughout the country. 

B. They lacked confidence in French promises and guarantees. 

C. They had to satisfy the opinion of the majority of rebels who 
wanted to throw the French into the sea! 39 

During late August the most radical among the nationalists and the Druze 
leaders resolved to bring the revolt to Damascus. In keeping with the gener- 
ally vague goals of the People’s Party itself, there was apparently little discus- 
sion of what would follow the French withdrawal; but the idea that France 
could be defeated and forced to abandon its mandate was widely held. The 
British consul in Damascus reported that “men’s minds at Damascus are be- 
ing exercised by what is to happen if the French decide to retire to the coastal 
regions.” Fie recorded an encounter with someone he called a moderate na- 
tionalist, who asked: “What should we Arabs do after the French leave Da- 

V> 40 


Conversations like this evidently occurred many times and inevitably were 
reported by British officials. Gertrude Bell, in a secret report that found its 
way into the French archives, opined that the French would abandon Syria 
and that “it is the Druze who will enable his brother Syrians to evict the 
French.” 41 British consul Smart, on another occasion, reported meetings with 
Amir Sa'id al-Jaza’iri, during which the amir, “like many other Syrians, seems 
inclined to the belief that France’s day in Syria is coming to an end.” 42 The 


Mobilizing the City 

fact that British officials received such confidences supports the persistent 
French notion of British and Sharifian intrigues against the French mandate. 
Raynaud was not alone in perceiving anti-French treachery in every quarter. 
The attitude permeated all of French mandate officialdom. But as the fail- 
ure of Raynaud’s negotiations amply demonstrates, his paranoid worries were 
more than simple delusions. 

On the same day as his meeting with the nationalists, Sultan al-Atrash 
sent emissaries to a number of Hawran villages to ask for horsemen. 43 After 
organizing the disparate forces, Sultan al-Atrash sent a letter on 23 August 
to invite Raynaud to resume talks the following day. It was the final gesture 
of the negotiations and a final attempt to trick the mandate power before the 
attack on Damascus of 24 August. 44 The attack was already planned, and the 
letter could only have been an attempt to catch the French off guard. Ray- 
naud himself (the scales finally slipping from his eyes) opined that the letter 
might have been a deceitful gesture. 

The negotiations represent the final phase in the transition from local to 
national rebellion. They were symbolic of what Philip Khoury calls the transi- 
tional character of the revolt as a whole, and they played out as an apparent de- 
bate over two weeks or so within the Druze community about their collective 
future. Despite the debate among the community members, they had agreed 
immediately on some previously contentious issues. The conditions that the 
Druze shaykhs submitted show that they were serious about union with a 
larger Syrian state and that the Druze had accepted the language of nation- 
alism, at the least. The question remains: was the entire negotiation a ruse to 
gain the release of rebel chiefs and delay the inevitable French counterattack? 

Shahbandar echoed Raynaud’s contention that Damascene members of 
the People’s Party had stiffened Druze resolve at a critical moment. Raynaud 
contended that except for outside agitators the Druze would have submit- 
ted. Among the Druze, some sought an end to hostilities and an end to the 
nearly continuous aerial bombardment they had suffered for a month. Never- 
theless, men allied with Sultan al-Atrash carefully manipulated Raynaud and 
the French negotiators and probably manipulated conservative members of 
their own community. The strategy of manipulation did not simply evolve 
during the course of the negotiation but was planned from the beginning. 45 
While the Druze negotiated with the French, the nationalists were engaged 
in a process of negotiation over the role of Damascus in the uprising. Armed 
revolt was not universally appealing to the merchants, journalists, and poli- 
ticians who made up the membership of the party. In both Damascus and 
the Jabal, the militants prevailed. All five of the men directly involved in the 

Hawran Peace Negotiations 


Druze negotiations immediately participated in the rebellion. Muhammad 
‘Izz al-Din al-Halabi, graduate of the Ottoman Military Academy, former 
officer, and employee in Faysal’s government, led rebel bands all over south- 
ern Syria and was in exile under death sentence until 1937. Hayl Amr had 
joined Amir Faysal during the Arab Revolt; and though he did surrender to 
the French after the Great Revolt, it was not until 1927. 46 On the eve of the 
first attack on Damascus, the militants in both camps had reached a critical 
mass and had succeeded in bullying the less committed into acquiescence. 

The attack on Damascus was not successful. The Damascene force, prom- 
ised as 500 horsemen, turned out to be only about 100. Yahya al-Hayati and 
Zaki al-Durubi, both former Ottoman army officers and graduates of the 
Ottoman Military Academy, led the Damascenes. The Druze, bedouin, and 
Hawrani force numbered more than 1,000 people, led by Zayd al-Atrash 
and Muhammad 'Izz al-Din al-Halabi. While the two groups were organiz- 
ing and their leaders were arguing, a French airplane spotted them and im- 
mediately launched an attack. The air attack was fierce; and more airplanes 
joined the fight shortly, dropping bombs and scattering the insurgents with 
machine-gun fire. A Moroccan cavalry troop charge immediately followed 
the air attack. 47 

The French were relieved, but the rebel setback was slight. A single insur- 
gent was killed, while several French Moroccan Sipahis and one officer were 
killed. 48 The insurgents scattered; some returned to Jabal Hawran, and some 
returned to the Ghuta, the gardens surrounding Damascus. Their losses were 
small, but there was a valuable lesson in the aborted attack: rebel forces would 
not again engage the French in large numbers in daylight in open country. 
Nighttime attacks and guerrilla warfare would dominate. Nationalist agita- 
tion in Damascus continued unabated. 

On the night of 23 August, immediately before the aborted attack, circu- 
lars signed by Sultan al-Atrash appeared all over Damascus. 


At last the day has come when we can reap the harvest of our 
struggle for liberty and independence. Let us arouse ourselves from 
our torpor and disperse the dark clouds of foreign oppression which 
weigh heavily on our land. For ten years we have struggled for the cause 
of liberty and independence. The written and spoken word no longer 
avails us; let us pursue the struggle with the sword. 

A right claimed with sufficient persistence must be conceded in 
the end. Syrians, experience has proved that rights are never given, but 


Mobilizing the City 

must be won. Let us arise then and wrest these rights from the usurp- 
ers at the point of a sword. Let us seek death that we may win life. 

Syrians, remember your forefathers, your history, your heroes, your 
martyrs, and your national honor. Remember that the hand of God is 
with us and that the will of the people is the will of God. Remember 
that civilized nations that are united cannot be destroyed. 

The imperialists have stolen what is yours. They have laid hands 
on the very sources of your wealth and raised barriers and divided your 
indivisible homeland. They have separated the nation into religious 
sects and states. They have strangled freedom of religion, thought, 
conscience, speech, and action. We are no longer even allowed to move 
about freely in our own country. 

To arms! Let us realize our national aspirations and sacred hopes. 

To arms! Sons of the nation. 

To arms! Confirm the supremacy of the people and freedom of the 

To arms! Let us free our country from bondage. 

The usurper has ignored our rights and broken his plighted word. 

We disavow before God ah responsibility for this conflict to which 
the greedy and insatiable foe has driven us. The blood of the innocent 
victims of this mass rising in defense of the sacred rights of the nation 
will be on the heads of those who caused it to flow. 

Insult and injury have pursued us to our very homes. We have only 
asked of the oppressor that an inhuman French Governor may be re- 
placed by another of the same race. Not only has our prayer not been 
answered, but our envoys have been driven away like sheep and cast 
into prison. 

The cup is fuh to overflowing. To arms! Let us wipe out this in- 
sult in blood. 

The die is cast. Our war is a holy war. 

We have drawn our swords and wih not sheathe them until our 
demands are fulfilled. These are our demands: 

1. The complete independence of Arab Syria, one and indivisible, 
sea-coast and interior; 

2. The institution of a Popular Government and the free election 
of a Constituent Assembly for the framing of an Organic Law; 

Hawran Peace Negotiations 


3. The evacuation of the foreign army of occupation and the cre- 
ation of a national army for the maintenance of security; 

4. The application of the principles of the French Revolution and 
the Rights of Man. 

To arms! Let us write our demands with our blood, as our fathers 
did before us. 

To arms! God is with us. 

Long live independent Syria! 

Sultan al-Atrash 

Commander of the Syrian Revolutionary Armies 49 

The manifesto first appeared in the neighborhoods of Damascus, but it 
soon found its way into newspapers in other Arab countries, the French press, 
and the archives of the League of Nations and Great Britain. It was not the 
work of Sultan al-Atrash alone. French intelligence surmised that it was writ- 
ten by Sami al-Sarraj, a nationalist from Aleppo who had traveled to Jabal 
Hawran to join the revolt. He had been active in nationalist causes since the 
reign of Faysal and, as a journalist, had been responsible for a number of fiery 
tracts. 50 

It is, by any standard, a radical and sophisticated document and an inter- 
esting mix of local politics and militant nationalism. It could only have been a 
collaboration between the Druze and the nationalists. Though the manifesto 
was aimed at all Syrians, and those beyond Syria as well, the reference in the 
final paragraph is clearly to the trap set by Sarrail to capture Druze notables 
before the revolt. This paragraph did not appear in all the versions of the tract, 
and the versions published outside Syria did not have it. The episode was 
probably not familiar to most of the intended audience of this manifesto. An 
obscure reference to a matter of purely regional Druze politics in an avowedly 
nationalist tract is a reminder that the revolt started as one type of political 
action and evolved into another. Whoever wrote it, the signature at the end 
proclaims to all that the leader of the movement is not an urban notable, not 
a member of the nationalist elite, not a privileged recipient of a modern edu- 
cation, but a rural shaykh and farmer from a rebellious sectarian minority. 

By late August armed bands had begun to form in the neighborhoods of 
Damascus and the surrounding villages. Later on the same day of the attack 
on Damascus, Nasib al-Bakri gathered armed men from the various neighbor- 
hoods of Damascus, including al-Shaghur, inside the city walls; Bab Musalla, 
just outside the walls; Maydan; and the nearby Ghuta village of Jaramana. 

8 4 

Mobilizing the City 

Though he gathered 260 men before heading south to the Jabal that eve- 
ning, intelligence reports noted with satisfaction that some villagers in Jara- 
mana had refused to join him. The reluctant villagers of Jaramana soon felt 
the effects of the uprising anyway, since by the end of September French 
bombs had flattened their village. Sa'id Haydar went into the Anti-Lebanon 
mountains above Damascus with men from his town of Ba'labak, 65 kilo- 
meters northeast of Damascus in the mandate state of greater Lebanon. They 
planned to destroy the railroad lines out of Damascus. Armed bedouin had 
robbed travelers on the roads in all directions leading from Damascus, and 
the roads were no longer considered secure. 51 

Insurgent emissaries visited Hawran villages and the villages surround- 
ing Damascus in the final days of August. Five or six Hawran villages were 
known to have joined the rebellion, and bedouin swelled the rebel ranks. 52 
The small tribes of the Jabal, the c arab al-jabal, had been with the rebels from 
the beginning; and a major Transjordanian tribe, the Bani Sakhr, had joined 
the rebellion as well. In late August the Service des Renseignements inter- 
cepted copies of a letter addressed to Hamad and Sultan al-Atrash and all the 
shaykhs of the Jabal from the shaykhs of the Ruwala tribe. The Ruwala was 
a very large, fully nomadic tribe that ranged from central Syria to the Ara- 
bian Peninsula. In the mid-twenties it numbered several thousand tents and 
at least 3,000 armed men. 53 The Ruwala shaykhs claimed that they were con- 
cerned that their help might bring trouble upon the Druze, presumably by 
alienating their other bedouin allies and causing pillage. Nevertheless, they 
went on to say: “From fathers to sons we have always walked hand in hand, 
and as our fathers were with your fathers and our grandfathers were with 
your grandfathers, so too we are with you. You and us, we are alike. Tell us 
what we must do for you.” 54 Despite the crucial role the Ruwala played in the 
Arab Revolt, this letter is based entirely on traditional relationships, with- 
out a single echo of nationalist sentiment. The same intelligence report that 
contained the letter mentions that mandate authorities had invited Nuri al- 
Sha'lan, amir of the Ruwala, to organize a bedouin security force to patrol 
the roads. He had not signed the letter to the Druze. Nuri al-Sha‘lan took 
no chances. Soon after, he sent a three-line telegraph to the president of the 
French Republic, the president of the Senate, and the deputies. “The Druze 
insurrection [is] provoking general indignation in the house of the great Ru- 
wala tribe. On this occasion, [we] renew [our] sincere sentiments of sympathy 
for glorious France. We are ready to spill our blood under the noble tricolor 
flag.” 55 The intelligence report noted that Nuri had assumed his habitual po- 
litical attitude and that he was in constant contact with the insurgents. 

Hawran Peace Negotiations 


The Damascus members of the People’s Party continued their meetings, 
propaganda, and debates, but the mandate power was closing in. On the 
night of 27 August, after a secret meeting at the house of a Damascene mer- 
chant, ‘Uthman al-Sharabati, the clampdown came. The meeting had been 
another debate on the role of the Party in the rebellion. After the conclusion 
of the meeting the secret police seized al-Sharabati in his house and all the 
other members who had returned to their own houses. They arrested lawyer 
Faris al-Khuri and merchant Tawfiq Shamiyya, both prominent Orthodox 
Christians, who (like Shahbandar and Nazih al-Mu’ayyad al- 'Azm, who both 
escaped) were graduates of the American University of Beirut and former 
officials in Amir Faysal’s short-lived government. Police also seized Najib 
al-Rayyis, the editor of the banned nationalist newspaper al-Muqtabas, and 
Fawzi al-Ghazzi, a nationalist notable from a prominent family of religious 
scholars. 56 

When police stormed Shahbandar ’s house in Arnus that night, they 
found him missing. Fie — along with As' ad, N asib, and Fawzi al-B akri, Yahya 
al-Hayati, Nazih al-Mu’ayyad al- 'Azm, Jamil Mardam Bek, Nabih al-'Azma, 
and Sa'id Haydar— escaped the dragnet. Some of those who escaped arrest 
had already taken part in attacks on mandate troops in Hawran and outside 
Damascus. Those who escaped capture scattered in the early morning hours 
after the arrests. Most would later turn up in Jabal Hawran or outside man- 
date Syria. The arrests did not pass unnoticed in Damascus; 28 August was 
a Friday, and the bazaars were closed. 

Notices circulated directing merchants to “respond to the appeal of the 
Party and close your shops for three days” in protest. 57 After Friday noon 
prayer, an angry crowd gathered at the Umayyad mosque in the center of the 
old city. The mosque is the grandest and oldest building in Damascus and 
the historical epicenter of antigovernment protest. The main bazaar, Suq al- 
Hamidiyya, leads directly to the front door of the mosque. 58 

A young man identified as Lutfi al-Yafi mounted the pulpit and spoke: 
“The government has imprisoned and expulsed the notables and intellectuals 
who were working for our independence. We must demonstrate before Sar- 
rail to protest this act.” The crowd moved out from the mosque, and at some 
point a man identified as Khalid Barkawi from al-Shaghur quarter fired some 
shots. The police moved in and erected barricades and machine-gun posts at 
the entrance to Suq al-Hamidiyya, about 400 meters from the mosque. The 
police dispersed and chased the demonstrators out of the bazaar, arresting 
about twenty. The remaining protesters moved out of Suq al-Hamidiyya into 
the al-Shaghur, Bab Musalla, and Maydan quarters, where the police claimed 


Mobilizing the City 

they originated. Demonstrations and sporadic gunfire continued all day and 
into the night in the neighborhoods . 59 Neither Damascus nor its nationalist 
leaders had taken the uprising seriously until they were forced into jail or into 
the countryside to seek the protection of the rural insurgents. The revolt was 
soon to evolve into a full-blown guerrilla war. 


The Spread of Rebellion 


P rotests and agitation continued into September 1925 and gradually 
spread to all the cities of mandate Syria. Mme. Shahbandar immedi- 
ately assumed the mantle of her fugitive husband and engaged in a 
series of meetings with the wives of exiled and jailed Damascene national- 
ists and with other prominent women. She organized women’s marches and 
decried the lack of courage among the men of Damascus and the failure of 
merchants to close the bazaars completely. 1 French intelligence opined that 
the house of Mme. Shahbandar was “a hotbed of anti-mandatory propa- 
ganda.” 2 Still, the devoted attention that she received from French intelli- 
gence came from a general lack of more threatening activity. She held meet- 
ings at her house and drafted petitions to the League of Nations. Twenty 
or thirty women routinely attended and represented the most accomplished 
and publicly visible Syrian women. They included several school and orphan- 
age directors and teachers and at least one lawyer. Like the male members of 
the People’s Party, they met at the Shahbandar house and the house of jailed 
merchant ‘Uthman al-Sharabati. They also met at the Damascus-American 
Girls’ School in al-Salihiyya. 3 

Agitation continued in the countryside too. Nasib al-Bakri toured villages 
throughout southern Syria seeking support and making contacts. Sultan al- 
Atrash sent various letters to villages and towns all over the countryside in the 
name of “independence, liberty, fraternity, and equality,” declaring that all 
Druze, Sunnis, Alawis, Shfis, and Christians were sons of the Syrian Arab 
nation. As there was no difference between them, there was only one enemy 
before them : the unjust military authority and the foreign colonizer. As leader 
of the Syrian Arab revolutionary army, he asked all to help: 

Ensure harmony between all communities. 

Guard the tranquility of their villages and towns and allow entry of 
rebel troops [into their villages] in order to speed the flight of the colo- 



The Spread of Rebellion 

Allow patrols . . . loyal to the homeland to blend in among the inhabi- 
tants, in order to take possession of the villages in good order, and to 
safeguard the inhabitants and their belongings against pillage and all 

Recruit volunteers in the towns and villages [to welcome] the detach- 
ments of the patriotic rebels with chants of enthusiasm. 4 

Intelligence agents recovered this tract in al-Qunaytra, a city mostly pop- 
ulated by Circassian Muslim refugees settled by the Ottoman government 
after the defeat of 1878. The implied threat in the third point reflects the reali- 
ties of guerrilla warfare and the historically poor relations between the Cir- 
cassians and the Druze. Despite the fine language and inclusive nationalist 
sentiments, villagers were responsible for the consequences if they resisted the 
insurgents. Circassian villages in Hawran had long resisted Druze domina- 
tion more fervently than other communities in the Hawran. Druze migrants 
resented the more recent Circassian migrants to a frontier region that they 
had fought to dominate. As refugees resettled by the Ottoman state, the Cir- 
cassians also had a deeper identification with the central government than 
most of their neighbors did. This loyalty apparently carried over to the man- 
date. Circassians, along with Armenian refugees from Anatolia, constituted 
the majority of locally raised French colonial troops during the revolt. 

A few days before this tract appeared, rebels, reported to be Druze, en- 
gaged Circassian gendarmes in the Hawran village of Durin. When the gen- 
darmes pursued the rebels into the formerly peaceful village, the villagers 
themselves fired on the gendarmes. Soon after, aerial bombardment destroyed 
the village, and the villagers abandoned their homes. The report affirmed that 
Circassian troops were widely disliked and that many had quit the gendar- 
merie or requested reposting elsewhere. 5 The League of Nations Permanent 
Mandates Commission charter explicitly prohibited the use of locally raised 
troops outside their states of residence. Since Syria and Lebanon had been 
partitioned into Greater Lebanon, the state of Syria surrounding Damascus, 
the state of Jabal Druze in Hawran, and the state of the Alawites in the north- 
ern coastal regions, Circassian and other locally raised troops protested that 
they could not be sent outside their home regions. 6 

Muslims and Christian villages in Hawran also had difficult historical re- 
lations with the Hawran Druze. The Druze shaykhs, particularly the Atrash, 
had long bullied the Hawranis (plural Hawarna), and some resisted the up- 
rising. 7 A few Hawran shaykhs aided the French to the extent possible with- 

Urban Agitation 

out exposing themselves and their villages to insurgent retribution. Never- 
theless, the new nationalist call that accompanied the revolt was compelling 
for many, and a number of Hawran shaykhs did join the uprising. While the 
Druze had many traditional enemies, the nationalist component of the up- 
rising and the illegitimacy of mandate rule had altered these relations; and 
some of those among the Christian communities most favored by France 
trenchantly criticized the mandate government. Authorities intercepted a 
tract circulating in Beirut and addressed to the “defenders of humanity.” 
It was signed by a self-identified Maronite Christian of Dayr al-Qamr in 
Mount Lebanon. He wrote: “The government of France has decided to pun- 
ish those they call the rebels and bandits of the Jabal Druze.” As a member 
of the human race, he protested the violation of human rights and claimed: 
“The French army has employed poison gas against the Druze, which af- 
firms French will to exterminate an entire people.” Finally, the writer called 
upon the League of Nations and the noble spirit represented by many French 
people to preserve the human rights of the mandate population. 8 

Damascus remained the center of urban resistance, but agitation emerged 
from Beirut too, and this tract was widespread there. The possibility exists 
that it was phony, produced by someone other than the signatory. The roots 
of Druze -Maronite animosity in Mount Lebanon were deep and emerged 
before the 1860s. The identity of its writer as a Maronite would have con- 
founded the mandate authorities. French claims to the mandate in the first 
place were based on its relationship with its historical clients, the Maro- 
nite and other Uniate Christians. The creation of a separate mandate for 
Maronite -dominated Greater Lebanon was a manifestation of this commit- 
ment. Anti-mandate voices from within that community consequently had 
special resonance. It is generally true that members of the Catholic rites 
were better disposed toward the French mandate than other sectarian groups 
in Syria and Lebanon. Just as there were pro-mandate Druze, however, it 
should be no surprise that there were anti-mandate Christians. Hanna Abi 
Rashid, the preeminent contemporary chronicler of the uprising in Hawran, 
fierce foe of colonial occupation, and Maronite Christian, is a good example. 
Faris al-Atrash is an example from the opposite pole. He spent the revolt 
in the Hawran town of Dar'a under French protection from his relatives. 
Still, mandate authorities and apologists searched much more assiduously for 
“friends of France” among the Druze than they searched for enemies among 
the Christians. The sources reflect this. The tract differs substantially from 
rebel tracts. It appeals not to nationalism, martyrdom, or blood spilling but to 
human rights and general humanity. Since it differs so greatly from the tone 


The Spread of Rebellion 

of insurgent tracts, and appeals to humanity and not to violence, perhaps it 
was the call of a single anguished conscience. 

Other letters and tracts circulated in Beirut. Some were the work of the lo- 
cal Communist Party; and hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Arabic-language 
tracts were mailed to Syria and Lebanon by the French Communist Party. At 
the beginning of September mandate authorities seized hundreds of tracts 
postmarked from all over France. They usually came in envelopes marked 
“Touring-club de France,” and they turned up in every village and town, 
addressed to local journalists, teachers, and notables. Mandate authorities 
translated the single text at least fifty times, until the Service des Renseigne- 
ments finally reported it to all mandate offices. 9 The Central Committee of 
the Communist Party of Syria and Lebanon soon distributed notices as well, 
which were, however, much better attuned to the situation than those of the 
French Communists. Bulletins mailed from Beirut to various towns and cities 
and addressed “to soldiers and workers” called on all Syrian Arabs and all 
sectarian communities to join their Druze brothers and fight for liberty, free- 
dom, and honor. They made a special appeal to the Armenians, “the sons of 

the oppressed, and victims of the imperialists’ war, not to join the imperialist 


Meanwhile meetings took place among the insurgent leaders (Druze, 
Hawrani, and Damascene) in the villages high on Jabal Hawran. They held 
a meeting at al-Qanawat above Suwayda’ on 28 August and resolved to ad- 
vance on Damascus after ten days. 11 A few days later a much larger meeting 
took place at the house of Salman Kaylani, shaykh of the remote Jabal vil- 
lage of Nimra. A hundred or so Hawrani Druze and other rural shaykhs were 
joined by fifty or more Damascenes, mostly from Maydan, and various others, 
including former army officers. Some of the Druze reportedly upbraided the 
Damascenes for their broken promises of help and military assistance. “We 
in the Jabal have been deceived and ruined. We did not make peace because 
of your promises that Damascus would stand alongside us. But the Dama- 
scenes came only for their self-interest.” 12 

Shahbandar and Jamil Mardam replied by recounting their recent journey 
in search of support in Transjordan. They reported a meeting with Ali Rida 
Basha al-Rikabi, who would send weapons, ammunition, troops, and even 
airplanes to help further the cause. 13 Rikabi was King Abdallah’s prime min- 
ister. He was a Damascene, a former ranking Ottoman officer and a former 
high official in Amir Faysal’s government. The former officers and the pro- 
Hashemite Druze held Rikabi in high esteem, but it is doubtful that anyone 
besides paranoid French intelligence officers could have credited the story 

Urban Agitation 


that such reinforcements were coming from Transjordan. In fact, it is doubt- 
ful that Shahbandar— his credibility with the Druze already strained— would 
have made such outlandish promises. 

Intelligence officers purchased this information from a Syrian who was 
there. It is self-evident that informants tell the stories that their paymasters 
want to hear, but the revolt leadership was eventually concerned enough about 
informers to discuss and document penalties for treason. Sultan al-Atrash 
drafted a letter to the chief of police of the rebel government, Husni Sakhr, a 
Damascene who had occupied the same position under the mandate govern- 
ment in Jabal Druze, prescribing the amputation of the hands of informers 
(but with anesthesia and under a doctor’s supervision). Husni Sakhr began 
his career as an Ottoman military officer and took part in an Ottoman mis- 
sion to the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1894, when he was 
fifteen years old. 14 

Whether the supply and reinforcement journeys to Amman were fruitful 
or not, someone began operating the cannons captured at the battle of al- 
Mazra'a. 15 Artillery pieces were placed at various locations guarding Suwayda’ 
and were reportedly manned by “Sharifian” artillerymen. They periodically 
fired on the citadel at Suwayda’, with its French garrison still holed up after 
two months and in radio contact with Damascus, though apparently with- 
out great effect. 16 Shahbandar, Hasan al-Hakim, and some members of the 
Bakrf family returned to Amman to obtain Egyptian passports. Muhammad 
‘Izz al-Din al-Halabi brought eight cases of rifle ammunition from Amman 
and was reportedly detained there by a police officer who found him listed on 
an arrest warrant. An unnamed police commissioner released him and repri- 
manded the arresting officer severely. 17 Preparations continued for the inevi- 
table French counterattack. 

The Military Command in Paris had replaced General Michaud, the dis- 
graced commander of the column destroyed at al-Mazra‘a, with General 
Maurice Gamelin. When Sarrail resisted removing Michaud after his de- 
feat, Paris went over his head to remove the general and appoint another, 
though Sarrail was given the latitude to choose Michaud’s successor from a 
short-list of six. 18 Gamelin arrived in mid- September along with several thou- 
sand reinforcements, including Foreign Legion troops. The advance toward 
Suwayda’ began a few days after his arrival. 

As Gamelin’s column left Damascus, another meeting took place at Ara 
on the lower slopes of the Jabal between Suwayda’ and al-Qraya. The insur- 
gents knew of the departure of the new force to al-Musayfra and resolved 
to intercept its advance units there or on the way to Suwayda’. French intel- 


The Spread of Rebellion 

ligence received a report of the meeting from a Hawrani shaykh who had 
been present and knew of rebel plans for a large attack at al-Musayfra. Rebels 
planned to assemble at the village of Ara and call the inhabitants to arms 
and then proceed to al-Qraya; from there around 2,500 men would attack the 
citadel at Suwayda 3 . If it turned out well, they would immediately attack the 
approaching French column. They planned to set traps for armored cars and 
tanks on the roads and camouflage the traps so that they could capture the ve- 
hicles. 19 Reportedly, many of the Druze at the meeting were tired of fighting 
and were ready to surrender. But among those claimed by the informant to be 
ready for submission was Muhammad ‘Izz al-Din al-Halabi, who later fled 
to al-Azraq in Jordan in 1927 with the last of the insurgents and continued 
to fight the French in cross-border raids until 1930, when the insurgents and 
their families were finally expelled by the British. 20 

Agitation in Damascus and sympathetic dispatches in European news- 
papers did little to stop the daily rain of bombs on villages all over the southern 
countryside or to help the Druze when the inevitable French force returned to 
the Hawran. While Gamelin assembled his force in Damascus, an advanced 
group of Foreign Legionnaires and heavy infantry under Colonel Charles An- 
drea reached al-Musayfra. The advance troop numbered six hundred or eight 
hundred seasoned soldiers. Al-Musayfra had accepted the mandate govern- 
ment and had evidently paid taxes since the beginning of the uprising. Will- 
ingness to pay taxes was the general standard by which the French measured 
submission or rebellion. 21 The villagers of al-Musayfra had paid taxes and later 
harbored rebels. The acceptance of rebels made this a “treasonous” village, 
subject to the harshest punitive measures, which meant summary execution 
of most male villagers and demolition of their houses. 22 

The choices available to such Hawran villages at this time were limited. 
The region was not completely under the control of either the French or 
the rebels. Tax collectors came with a complement of several hundred armed 
troops, and troops looted and burned villages that refused to pay. Soldiers 
executed villagers who did not flee immediately on the spot. Sometimes they 
were shot while they fled. 23 Villagers fared marginally better at the hands of 
the rebels. Those who refused entry to insurgents had to be prepared to defend 
themselves and would end up pillaged if they failed to drive the insurgents 
away. Rebels usually stole animals and agricultural goods, though in many 
cases villagers freely gave all that they had to give to support rebels. French 
forces also took animals and foodstuffs, both from villages in rebellion and 
from those that had submitted. Pillaging insurgents might well leave villagers 
destitute, but rebels did not demolish villages and seem not to have executed 

Urban Agitation 


villagers even if they had joined the French. Monsignor Nicolas Cadi, Greek 
Catholic archbishop of Hawran and Jabal Druze, made a claim for compen- 
sation to the mandate authority in September 1925. He listed the theft of 
around 3,000 sheep and 800 cattle, but not one human death. He noted that 
cold and starvation could follow and claimed that the majority of pillaged vil- 
lagers were Catholic. Even the villages securely under rebel control and pro- 
tection and not reachable by French forces were subject to nearly continuous 
bombing from the air whether they were Druze, Christian, or mixed. 24 

Foreign Legion troops and Andrea’s Eighteenth Tirailleurs occupied al- 
Musayfra on 15 September. The troops expelled and killed the remaining in- 
habitants of the village and immediately built strong fortifications surround- 
ing it. 25 They strung barbed wire, dug trenches, and built a series of walls from 
earth and stone. The fortifications were guarded by machine guns. The insur- 
gents knew that Gamelin’s main force was coming and resolved to attack the 
smaller advance guard. At four o’clock in the morning on 17 September they 
attacked in a wild charge. Machine-gun fire cut down the charging rebels, 
but they continued the attack. The battle raged for hours, but the insurgents 
did not break through the fortifications in large numbers. After the sun came 
up, French airplanes bombed the rebels twenty-seven times in three hours as 
they retreated. Three hundred to four hundred were killed. Among them was 
Shaykh Salman Hamza of the village of Rassas, who was killed along with 
his four sons. “When their mother found out, she died too,” wrote Salama 
‘Ubayd. 26 

Colonel Andrea lauded the performance of his troops and claimed that 
the attack had been a surprise. Intelligence documents and the memoir of 
Bennett Doty indicate without question that Andrea and his troops expected 
and prepared for an attack. Andrea also claimed that the rebel force num- 
bered io,ooo. 27 French intelligence and his own men knew better; the rebel 
force was no more than 2,500. After the battle, Andrea ordered the captured 
insurgents put to work stacking the bodies of their dead comrades and the 
dead of al-Musayfra in front of the village as an example. After they finished 
the job, he ordered the prisoners executed. 28 He failed to report these last de- 
tails in his memoirs. 

Documentation of such policies is rarely found in the mandate archives. 
The private memoirs of its soldiers and lower functionaries are often more 

The strange memoir of Bennett Doty is the best example. Doty was an 
French Foreign Legion volunteer of American origin who later deserted with 
John Henry Harvey, a Foreign Legion volunteer of English origin, who also 


The Spread of Rebellion 

wrote a memoir. Each blames his desertion on the other. Doty’s book seems 
more reliable and has more verifiable information. Harvey’s book is more hor- 
rifying and fantastic and contains fewer names, dates, or locations. It also 
contains overt anti-French sentiment. Both men were veterans of the First 
World War, and both memoirs are inexplicably well written. Such books were 
apparently very popular in Europe and America, though some were clearly 
written by people who never served in or even visited Syria. 29 

Doty used the name “Gilbert Clare” in the Foreign Eegion. Documents 
from the mandate archives indicate that he was indeed wanted by the French 
authority for desertion. Desertion was a major problem for the French forces, 
particularly the colonial legions. North African and Syrian Eegion troops 
regularly deserted and joined the rebels, and sometimes German Foreign Le- 
gion soldiers changed sides too. Foreign Legion troops deserted en masse on 
more than one occasion, usually fleeing for Palestine, sometimes accompa- 
nied by their junior officers. 

Gamelin arrived at al-Musayfra two days later. The column of 8,000 trav- 
eled by rail to Azru‘ and marched to al-Musayfra. They joined Andrea’s 
exhausted troops and stayed at al-Musayfra for two additional days before 
marching on Suwayda’. The march and occupation of Suwayda’ provoked 
only minimal opposition. The rebels had retreated to the more remote vil- 
lages; many had sent their families over the border to Transjordan. By the 
time the French reached the town it was deserted, and water sources had 
been destroyed. They relieved the garrison in the citadel, burned everything 
still standing after two months of continuous bombing, and returned to al- 
Musayfra. The countryside around Suwayda’ was denuded, the water supply 
was ruined, and the hills were insecure. Gamelin decided that due to lack of 
water and the difficulty of holding the town without provisions he had to re- 
treat to Hawran. 30 

Despite months of agitation in Damascus, the Druze had faced the French 
onslaught alone. They had suffered a painful defeat, but Gamelin’s retreat 
from Suwayda’ made defeat look like victory. The mandate government had 
filled the few Damascus newspapers still in print with loud predictions of 
the end of the uprising. When the massive French army evacuated Suwayda’ 
after one day, the effect on public opinion in Damascus and the Jabal was pre- 
dictable; the Druze had once again defeated the French. A few Druze chiefs 
made submissions to the mandate government in the days after al-Musayfra, 
but the submissions quickly dried up when it was clear that the French could 
not hold the Jabal. 31 The Paris press finally had something to celebrate, but 
the celebration was short. 32 

Rebellion in Hamah 


The nationalists of Damascus had failed to help the Druze repulse the 
French advance. They distributed fiery tracts in Damascus and traveled be- 
tween the Hawran and Amman trying to gain support from outside. Al- 
though meetings continued and new tracts appeared in Damascus, few were 
willing or able personally to mobilize or lead armed resistance, and the mili- 
tant masses had yet to materialize . 33 The Druze, confounding the claims of 
later social scientists that they conform to the expectation of a “compact mi- 
nority,” continued to lead resistance and maintained their hard-won role as 
masters of the Hawran and full partners (commercial and otherwise) with 
Damascus . 34 Insurgent leaders celebrated what they called the “final evacua- 
tion of the Jabal by the French .” 35 New groups of rebels would soon emerge, 
but they would neither follow nor even acknowledge the leadership of Dama- 
scene politicians. They would take their inspiration from the Druze of Jabal 


On 4 October an insurgent force of hundreds occupied the central Syrian 
town of Hamah. In 1925 it was mandate Syria’s third largest town, with 
80,000 inhabitants. Hamah lies in a fertile valley along the Orontes River, 
200 kilometers north of Damascus. It was a market center for the agricultural 
produce of the valley and the surrounding regions. The town was known for 
the beauty of its river and parks and the medieval wooden waterwheels that 
raise river water to irrigate its gardens. It was also known for Islamic conser- 
vatism and fierce opposition to French rule. 

A renegade captain in the French-Syrian Legion led the uprising. Fawzi 
al-Qawuqji was a former Ottoman army officer and Ottoman Military Acad- 
emy graduate. Qawuqji was born in modest circumstances in Tripoli, in what 
became Greater Lebanon, in 1890. He attended the Ottoman Military Acad- 
emy in Istanbul and was there at the time of the Unionist (Young Turk) revo- 
lution in 1908. He later wrote that while he waited for an assignment in Istan- 
bul an officer came and announced that the army was free and that freedom, 
justice, equality, and brotherhood would reign. Meanwhile he heard that the 
Arabic language would be relegated to the status of Chinese in the school. 
Shortly after, the students from different regions grouped together with their 
compatriots and began to quarrel and fight based on their regional, linguistic, 
or ethnic identification. Qawuqji graduated from the Harbiye in 1912, at the 
relatively advanced age of twenty-one or twenty- two. He immediately went to 
Libya to fight the Italian invasion of that Ottoman province. During the war 


The Spread of Rebellion 

of 1914-1918, Qawuqji remained with the Ottoman forces. He later ridiculed 
the Hashemites and wrote that Ottoman rule, for all its iniquities and injus- 
tices, was far better than partition and domination by the European imperi- 
alists. In 1925 he was a cavalry commander of a Syrian unit based in Hamah. 36 

Qawuqji had watched events in Hawran closely and sought to coordinate 
his efforts with those in the south. He and other former officers and reli- 
gious leaders had formed a local party, Hizb Allah, as a secret focus for re- 
sistance to the mandate. 37 Hamah was a town of significant outward Islamic 
religiosity, and religious sentiment was more widely expressed in public there 
than in Damascus. In his memoirs Qawuqji wrote that though the party’s 
goals were nationalism and independence they chose the name to gain the 
support of the religious establishment in Hamah and to confuse the man- 
date authorities. In an earlier account of the party’s formation Qawuqji was 
more ambivalent about the religiousness of the party and about its nationalist 
orientation. In any event, the name apparently did not deceive mandate au- 
thorities, since their documents referred to Hizb Allah as the People’s Party 
in Hamah. Qawuqji wrote in his memoirs that he had contacted Dr. Shah- 
bandar months earlier, seeking formal union with the People’s Party in Da- 
mascus. He also sought advice about armed rebellion against the mandate. 
Shahbandar refused to sanction subsidiary organizations and told Qawuqji 
that armed resistance against the mandate was dangerous and detrimental to 
the situation in Syria. 

Qawuqji published his memoirs in 1975. In an introduction to a friend’s 
memoir published in 1935, he was both more oblique and more damning about 
his relations with Damascene nationalists. Less than ten years after the revolt 
he wrote that he had made contact with some leaders in Damascus (whose 
names he could not mention) to ask if they could help in an uprising or if 
they would take part or provide support for the undertaking and that they re- 
plied that they would never consider such a thing. There is little doubt that 
the people he refused to name in 1935 were Shahbandar and members of his 
party. 38 Qawuqji attacked the nationalist elite elsewhere too. Munir al-Rayyis 
quoted him as complaining about their lack of commitment to the cause of 
expelling France and exclaiming: “Who will rise in armed revolt in Hamah? 
Will the nationalists do it, the majority of them of the cultured classes who 
refuse to carry arms and who do not know how to fire a rifle?” 39 

It turned out, however, that the assessment of the nationalist leaders that 
Qawuqji cursed was correct; armed struggle was detrimental to Syria, and the 
French response led to the deaths of thousands and the destruction of much 
of the country. Qawuqji, Shahbandar, and many of their comrades were in 

Rebellion in Hamah 


exile until 1937. Whether or not the nationalists (in their reluctance to lead) 
were responsible for the failure of the revolt — as both Qawuqji and his former 
Ottoman army comrade Sa'id al-As charged— is another question. 

In seeking help, Qawuqji received no such reticence from the Druze in- 
surgents in the south. After the beginning of the revolt in Hawran, Qawuqji 
sent emissaries to Sultan al-Atrash. He had already contacted Nasib al-Atrash 
in Damascus before the revolt; and after the battle of al-Musayfra he sent 
Mazhar al-Siba‘i and Munir al-Rayyis. He charged them with the following: 

1. To convey their numbers and strength. 

2. To request that the Druze keep the pressure on Gamelin’s forces in 
early October in Hawran, to facilitate and expand their scope of 
operations in the region of Hamah. 

3. To appoint one trusted man to serve as the link between them. 

4. To advise of any needs or pending operations, and to convey 
information and instructions [ta'limat] orally only — not one word 
written. 40 

Munir al-Rayyis and Mazhar al-Siba‘i were fitting emissaries. They were 
young (both born in 1901) and committed to armed resistance. Siba'i was born 
in Hums, attended the Damascus military secondary school, and was in one 
of the last classes to attend the Ottoman Military Academy in Istanbul dur- 
ing the war. After the war he joined Mustafa Kemal fighting in Anatolia in 
the Turkish war of independence and later joined Ibrahim Hananu in north- 
ern Syria against the French. After the end of Hananu ’s revolt he was in jail 
for a year and ended up in Hamah in 1925, when he was still only twenty- 
four years old. Munir al-Rayyis was educated in Damascus as well, though 
in the civil system rather than the military system. He took a degree in lit- 
erature from the Syrian University and worked as a journalist and agitator his 
entire life. While Siba'i was killed in the Ghuta early in 1926, Rayyis fought 
in the Syrian revolt until 1927, in Palestine in 1936, and in Iraq in 1941, each 
time with Fawzi al-Qawuqji. He chronicled each experience and published 
three volumes in the 1960s and 1970s. 41 Qawuqji chose them as emissaries to 
Sultan al-Atrash for their reliability and commitment. 

Qawuqji had carefully planned and prepared the town for an uprising. He 
knew the activities and habits of the French military command, and he knew 
the importance of secrecy. He claimed that most of the people of Hamah were 
members of his organization or sympathizers. The French knew that they had 


The Spread of Rebellion 

no support in Hamah, but their intelligence failed them; they were unpre- 
pared when Qawuqji mutinied with the entire cavalry troop he commanded 
and occupied the city with the help of bedouin irregulars from the Mawali 
tribe. Qawuqji knew that the French army was stretched thin in Syria. The 
French empire was engaged in a guerrilla war in Hawran and facing a major 
colonial war in the Rif in Morocco at the same time. Qawuqji planned to 
force open a second front in Syria and compel France to abandon the man- 
date. He had been busy making friends among the religious establishment, 
the local bedouin, the police, and merchants, and it seemed that everyone but 
the French knew that a revolt was coming. Qawuqji argued for a holy cru- 
sade with the religious leaders of Hamah. With the bedouin and the ordinary 
people of Hamah, he emphasized the riches held in the offices of the gov- 
ernment and its banks that the imperialists had stolen from the people, who 
would share it after their defeat. 42 

Hamah’s population opposed French rule and readily joined Qawuqji, but 
his writing from the 1930s contains precious little that could be defined as nor- 
mative nationalism. He regarded the nationalist leaders of mandate Syria with 
undisguised contempt and variously referred to them as high-class national- 
ists, traitorous aristocrats, or worse. Dr. Shahbandar’s reply to Qawuqji’s pre- 
revolt entreaties reveals that the nationalists did not care for Qawuqji either. 
Shahbandar was resolutely secular, liberal, and nationalist, and it is not sur- 
prising that he chose not to sanction a supposedly nationalist party in Hamah 
with a name like Hizb Allah. Hamah was a city with a reputation for the type 
of Islamic conservatism that western-oriented nationalists viewed with deep 
concern. Still, Qawuqji’s vision was compelling. While the People’s Party 
in Damascus distributed artfully written appeals to national revival and re- 
sistance, which had little impact apart from worrying the mandate power, 
Qawuqji’s theoretically untidy mix of religion, anti-imperialist agitation, and 
class warfare evidently mobilized the majority of Hamah’s citizens. 43 

At seven in the evening on 4 October the insurgents struck. They cut the 
telephone lines, blocked the roads, attacked the government serai l (palace), 
captured the few French officers who did not escape, and opened the jail. By 
11:30 that night the battle was over, and Hamah was in rebel hands. 44 The fol- 
lowing morning, however, the French struck back. They subjected the town 
to continuous aerial bombing from first light until early afternoon. The bomb- 
ing laid waste to most of the town bazaars and several of the houses of its 
leading citizens. 

Hamah had long been the political and economic preserve of three notable 
families. The Barazi and the 'Azm were the most important landholding 

Rebellion in Hamah 


families and controlled most high secular offices, and the Kaylani family was 
preeminent in the control of religious offices. 45 Qawuqji had reached agree- 
ments with members of these families in the banks and in the offices of the 
government held by Syrians. 46 As Qawuqji had planned, Gamelin’s troops 
were occupied in Hawran. Qawuqji had several hundred armed bedouin, the 
mutinous Syrian Legion, and virtually the entire population of Hamah be- 
hind him. 

The mandate government rushed two companies of reinforcements from 
Rayaq and Aleppo. 47 The critical element in ending the uprising, however, 
was the role played by Hamah’s leading families. Early the morning after the 
uprising — amid burning buildings, smoldering ruins, and still falling bombs 
— Farid al-Azm, scion of Hamah’s most prominent family, joined Najib al- 
Barazi, the mayor of Hamah, to call on Commandant Coustillere of the be- 
sieged French garrison in his headquarters. The two sought an end to the 
bombing of Hamah and, according to Qawuqji, an end to the uprising. The 
three men struck a deal in which the mandate government would stop the 
bombardment and not hold the town’s notables responsible, if they persuaded 
the insurgents to evacuate the town. Through unclear means, Barazi con- 
vinced Qawuqji and his forces to leave. Years later Qawuqji was still angry 
over the betrayal of the “people’s hopes by the wily and hypocritical aris- 
tocratic class,” specifically Najib al-Barazi. He accused them of selling out 
to the foreigners and destroying the prospects of a plan sure to defeat the 
French and force their evacuation from all of Syria. 48 Qawuqji and the bed- 
ouin left Hamah the following day and met up with a group of rebels led by 
another former Ottoman officer, Ramadan Basha Shallash, who had come 
from Transjordan late the previous month. 

Despite the bombardment’s short duration, deaths and damages in Ha- 
mah were considerable. The citizens filed petitions to the League of Nations 
in which they reported that the repression had taken 344 lives, mostly civil- 
ians (many of them women and children). Mandate authorities — responding 
to the charges— reported that 76 were killed, all insurgents; but contempo- 
rary internal intelligence documents and reports from the commander of the 
Hamah garrison claimed more than 100 killed. Property destruction was also 
great. Besides the public buildings besieged by the rebels, bombs and mandate 
troops destroyed several large houses and two bazaars, including 115 shops. 49 
Whatever the cost in lives and property, mandate authorities considered it 
cheap, and the Bulletin de Renseignements of 10 October commented with self- 
satisfaction on “the excellent impression produced by the energetic manner in 


The Spread of Rebellion 

which order was restored during the events in Hamah. The prestige of France 
is vastly increased . . .” so 


The mandate power blocked the news from Hamah. Once again press cen- 
sorship proved worse than futile; bands of insurgents had begun to form all 
over central and southern Syria. Still, mandate officials considered Hamah 
a victory. General Franfois Soule, commander of the garrison at Damascus, 
remarked darkly — and with chilling prescience, in light of the devastating 
bombardment of the capital ten days later— that “he wished the Damascenes 
would give France a chance of dealing with them as the Hama rebels had been 
dealt with .” 51 While the details of the repression of Hamah were unknown 
to foreigners in the capital, it was clear to everyone that the countryside of 
mandate Syria was rapidly passing out of even nominal government control. 
Separate bands emerged in the countryside of Damascus and began a loosely 
coordinated guerrilla campaign on all sides of the capital. 

The French response was ineffectual. In the first week of October man- 
date authorities sent a group of sixty Syrian gendarmes into the countryside 
against the band of Hasan al-Kharrat, a former chief night watchman of al- 
Shaghur quarter. The troops proceeded to the eastern Ghuta village of al- 
Malayha, where they spent the night. During the night, a mixed band of 
insurgents from Damascus, Jabal Hawran, and the Ghuta captured the gen- 
darmes in the house of the mukhtar of the village, Abi ‘Umar al-Tsa. They 
killed one gendarme, disarmed the rest, and sent four officers to Jabal Hawran 
as prisoners and the men back to Damascus, stripped of their belongings. 
Sultan al-Atrash released the officers when he learned they had not resisted 
the rebels . 52 

It was certainly gentler and more artful treatment than captured rebels 
could expect at the hands of the French army. At about the same time the 
British consul protested (via an intermediary) the rebel theft of forty goats 
belonging to a Palestinian-British subject resident in the countryside of Da- 
mascus. The insurgents replied to the consul (through the intermediary) that 
they were sorry, but they had already eaten the goats . 53 

Two principal bands had emerged: that of Hasan al-Kharrat, mostly in 
the eastern Ghuta, and that of the ‘Akash brothers from Dummar in the Ba- 
rada River valley, northwest of the city. As the fifty-year-old night watch- 
man of al-Shaghur quarter, Kharrat knew the city and its environs well. Al- 
Shaghur was a quarter dominated by the Bakri family, and Kharrat had close 

Rebellion in Damascus 


ties to the family and especially the brothers Nasib and Fawzi. According to 
Sa'id al-‘As, Kharrat’s band was formed under Nasib al-Bakrf’s urging after 
the meetings of August with Dr. Shahbandar at the house of ‘Uthman al- 
Sharabati. In his telling, Kharrat was practically a Bakri family employee and 
served as their link to, and enforcer in, the quarter of al-Shaghur. Kharrat 
was in an ideal position to form a band. With a local following of young men, 
notoriety outside the quarter, good connections, and a reputation for tough- 
ness, Kharrat and his men operated very effectively. Kharrat formed a part- 
nership with a Damascene Sufi shaykh, Muhammad al-Hijaz; al-‘As claimed 
that they brought a distinct tinge of Islamic crusade to the band, which he 
did not approve of . 54 

No one claimed influence over the ‘Akash brothers’ band. Indeed, with 
a strong scent of criminality emanating from their band, they are practically 
absent from the Syrian sources. Contemporary European sources, however, 
particularly intelligence reports, attest to their astonishing effectiveness. Sa'id 
Akash was the leader of the band, which operated out of their village of 
Dummar just outside Damascus in the Barada River valley. They hid in caves 
along the sides of Jabal Qasyun (above Damascus) and above the valley, from 
which they attacked trains and automobiles passing through the valley on the 
Beirut auto road and railroad. By mid-October mandate authorities had ac- 
cused them of killing a gendarme, wounding the mukhtar of their village, kill- 
ing at least one of their fellow residents in Dummar, and pillaging any number 
of automobiles on the Beirut-Damascus road, sometimes killing the occu- 
pants. They would later manage to destroy train lines and mount attacks on 
trains . 55 It is also notable that while Hasan al- Kharrat and his son Fakhri died 
martyrs and were thus easily eulogized (their faults and sometimes not very 
patriotic behavior forgotten), most members of the equally humble ‘Akash 
family survived the revolt to cause even more trouble in their native Dum- 
mar. While Sa'id al- As found Hasan Kharrat’s Islamic fervor troubling, the 
‘Akash brothers and their friends seem to have identified with a much smaller 
community; they fought for Dummar . 56 

As pressure built on the French forces inside Damascus, military reaction 
ratcheted up from the comically ineffectual to the staggeringly brutal. Man- 
date forces tried to deal with Kharrat first. On 12 October a strong force sup- 
ported by aircraft, tanks, and artillery moved into the Ghuta with a plan to 
encircle the rebels in the region of al-Zur, which was a heavily wooded area 
along the river in the eastern Ghuta. Peasants from al-Malayha warned the 
insurgents of the approach of the French column. The French first pursued 
Kharrat’s band along the banks of the river; though they drew continuous 


The Spread of Rebellion 

sniper fire, they were unable to bring any rebels into the open. In frustration, 
they backtracked to the village of al-Malayha, which they looted and burned. 
The justification for this, intelligence claimed, was that a small boy of the vil- 
lage had alerted the insurgents of the visit of French troops a week earlier. 57 
The complicity of the villagers had thus facilitated the capture and humilia- 
tion of the earlier French force. 

The French then marched to the village of Jaramana, which they also 
looted and burned, though aerial and artillery bombardment had mostly de- 
stroyed it already. Although they never engaged Kharrat’s band in the open, 
troops executed nearly a hundred villagers in the Ghuta, many of them in 
their fields and orchards. Mandate soldiers brought their corpses to Damas- 
cus as trophies, and they brought a number of prisoners as well. Some of the 
young male prisoners were publicly shot in Marja Square, the central square of 
Damascus. Mandate authorities left sixteen mutilated corpses on display in a 
row for most of the rest of the day. The dead were “brigands,” and the demol- 
ished villages where they had lived were destroyed for the crime of harboring 
brigands. French troops openly sold their plundered loot in the bazaars. 58 

Anonymous Syrians avenged the killings and the spectacle in Marja 
Square a few days later. The government newspaper La Syrie had called the 
display of dead villagers a “splendid hunting score,” but the next morning the 
mutilated bodies of twelve Circassian soldiers appeared outside Bab Sharqi, 
the eastern gate to the old city and entry from the eastern Ghuta. 59 Mean- 
while Nasib al-Bakri was organizing insurgents inside and outside Damas- 
cus for a much bigger attack. Fie planned the infiltration of Damascus and 
the capture of the massive Ayyubid citadel at the western end of the old city. 
French military forces and artillery batteries were concentrated at Fort Gou- 
rard, in the northern suburb of al-Salihiyya, and at the citadel. Insurgents 
also learned that General Sarrail would be lodging at the high commissioner’s 
residence in the old city, at the eighteenth-century house of Damascus’ most 
famous family, the 'Azm Palace. The French government had acquired the 
house for use as the Institut Fran9ais d’Art et d’Archeologie Musulman. A 
modern apartment was built for use of the high commissioner. The rebels 
wanted to capture Sarrail and knew that he would be there on the nights of 
17 and 18 October. Nasib al-Bakri formulated the plan and wrote to Sultan 
al-Atrash, seeking his help. Atrash wrote back to say that he was busy with 
operations in the Hawran but that the whole of his force would come as soon 
as possible and told Bakri to wait for them at their base at the house of the 
prominent grain merchant family al-Mahayni in the Damascus neighborhood 
of Maydan. The letter was delayed, and Bakri did not wait for the reply. Fawzi 

Rebellion in Damascus 


al-Qawuqji and Ramadan Shallash were on their way from east of Hamah 
too. Neither they nor the Druze force arrived in time. 

Nasib al-Bakrf decided there was no time to wait. He had two groups of 
insurgents, Kharrat’s band and a mixed band made up of Druze and men from 
Maydan and Ghuta. The Druze were particularly anxious to avenge the out- 
rage of Jaramana. 60 They assembled at the al-Mahayni house. On the morn- 
ing of Sunday, 18 October, forty men with Hasan al-Kharrat entered the city 
from the cemetery just outside the southern city walls into al-Shaghur quar- 
ter through the Bab al-Saghir, shouting: “The Bani Ma'ruf [Druze] have 
arrived!” The crowds in the streets greeted them with wild applause, and 
many joined them. 61 They disarmed and took over the police station in al- 
Shaghur and proceeded north to the Azm Palace. Ramadan Shallash along 
with twenty bedouin arrived and came along. When they entered the Azm 
Palace, they found that Sarrail had already left for a journey to Hawran and 
a meeting in Dar'a. They pillaged and burned part of the grand house in any 
case. Though it held no tactical importance, it certainly held symbolic im- 
portance as the historical seat of economic and political power in Damascus, 
now usurped by the French and totally undefended. 

Meanwhile Nasib al-Bakri, his brothers, and 200 others worked their way 
up from Maydan, stopping along the way to murder a number of Armenian 
refugees in a camp in al-Qadam. The rebels claimed that the Armenians 
had taken part in the pillage of Ghuta villages as French armed irregulars. 
They entered the city hours later, at Bab al-Jabiyya, after proceeding through 
the quarters of Bab Musalla and al-Qanawat, outside the city walls. In each 
neighborhood they disarmed and pillaged the police stations and increased in 
number, as Damascenes joined them. 

The police and gendarmes laid down their weapons and abandoned their 
posts in all the neighborhoods of Damascus. Insurgents roamed the city at 
will. They occupied the city without serious opposition. The French military 
had ceased foot patrols and sent only armored vehicles, firing randomly, into 
the quarters. Rebels shouted the Islamic statement of faith and various reli- 
gious slogans, along with “the Bani Ma'ruf are coming!” 62 Residents in all 
the quarters built barricades from torn-up paving stones and fed and encour- 
aged the insurgents. Muslim qabadayat (quarter youth gang leaders) went to 
the Christian and Jewish quarters to insure that rebels and rioters left resi- 
dents unmolested. “These Moslem interventions assured the Christian quar- 
ters against pillage. In other words it was Islam and not the ‘Protectrice des 
Chretiens en Orient’ which protected the Christians in those critical days,” 
wrote the British consul in Damascus. 63 


The Spread of Rebellion 


figure 5. Damascus under bombardment. Courtesy Archives du Ministere des 
Affaires Etrangeres — Paris, Fonds iconographique. 

The mandate authority had decided on its response before the uprising 
had begun; and when Sarrail returned from the Hawran that afternoon, he 
merely approved the plan to shell and bomb the city before departing for Bei- 
rut. 64 The bombardment of the city began at around five o’clock on Sunday 
afternoon. The authority gave no warning to anyone and withdrew the few re- 
maining mandate troops immediately before the shelling began. At first they 
fired blank shells; but at some point they switched to live ammunition and 
shelled every quarter where insurgents had been reported. 

The bombardment lasted two full days. Entire quarters of Damascus were 
flattened. Nearly 1,500 were killed. 65 When the insurgents left on Tuesday 
morning, several Damascene notables immediately contacted the French 
command, securing a promise to end the bombardment that afternoon. Gen- 
eral Gamelin held a meeting with them after the bombardment ceased. Amir 
Sa'id al-Jaza’iri led the notable delegation, composed of Shaykh Muhammad 
Taj al-Din al-Hasani (a prominent Damascene cleric) and members of the al- 
Azm family and the al-Mu’ayyad al- Azm branch of the same family. Game- 
lin first demanded 200,000 Turkish gold lira, quickly reduced to 100,000, and 
3,000 rifles. 66 Members of the delegation disavowed responsibility for the up- 
rising; but after lengthy negotiation — or “discussions” as French intelligence 
termed them— they approved the measures, subject to the acceptance of the 
population. The fine was due on Saturday, 24 October; otherwise the bom- 

Rebellion in Damascus 


bardment would resume . 67 The mandate command, probably under orders 
from Paris, realized that it could not resume bombardment; and eventually 
the state’s puppet government, led by Subhi Barakat, paid the fine. 

Sa'id al-Jaza’iri, who led the delegation, was a grandson of Amir ‘Abd al- 
Qadir al-Jaza’iri, the exiled leader of opposition to the French colonization 
of Algeria. The Jaza’iri family, along with hundreds of friends and retainers, 
entered comfortable exile in Damascus in 1856, supported in part by a large 
French subsidy. Flundreds and perhaps thousands of Algerian refugee fol- 
lowers of the amir were settled in villages granted to him by the Ottoman state 
in Hawran and what became the British mandated state of Palestine. 'Abd al- 
Qadir won further fame as the protector of Damascene Christians during the 
riots of i860. Flis grandson Amir Sa'id evidently tried to play this role dur- 
ing the uprising in Damascus in October 1925, after French troops withdrew. 
He went to the Christian quarter in Bab Tuma, where he first made contact 
with the European consulates and then situated his followers in prominent 
places to help protect the Christians from attack. 

By the 1920s the Jaza’iris had long been one of the wealthiest families in 
Damascus. They had extensive agricultural holdings in villages throughout 
southern Syria, including the regions under British mandate. 68 They had been 
involved in the Hawran for years and had negotiated with the Druze, the 
bedouin, and the Europeans on behalf of the Ottoman government at vari- 
ous times during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Amir Sa'id 
was born in 1881 and educated at Maktab ‘Anbar (Damascus’ elite preparatory 
school) and later in the Galatasaray school (Mekteb-i Sultani) in Istanbul. 
He was ambitious and had worked hard to further his goals since the Otto- 
man withdrawal from Damascus, when the departing authorities left him in 
charge of public order. He appointed himself president of the Syrian Arab 
government; and when Amir Faysal arrived, he went into opposition. The 
British, supporting their client Faysal, helpfully exiled Amir Sa'id to Pales- 
tine. When the French exiled Faysal in 1920, Amir Sa'id came back. Dur- 
ing the revolt of 1925, he maintained relations with the French, the British, 
and the insurgents. According to British consul Smart, Amir Sa'id had casu- 
ally offered his services as prince of a united Palestine and Transjordan in the 
spring of 1925, since, in his words, King ‘Abdallah’s incompetence was plain 
to see. Like many, he expected the revolt to expel the French from Syria, and 
he thought that Britain would step in. 69 His close relations with the British 
evidently paid oft modestly: when the French jailed his cousin Amir Tahir 
(the famous shaykh and Arabist) immediately after the uprising in Damas- 
cus, British intervention got him released. Still, no one suggested that Amir 


The Spread of Rebellion 

Sa'id, his cousin Tahir, or any other members of Damascus’ landowning elite, 
with the exception of Nasib al-Bakri, had participated in the uprising in any 
significant way 

The attack on Damascus had failed to dislodge the mandate power. Two 
days later, on 22 October, mandate authorities captured and eventually exe- 
cuted Fakhrf Ibn Hasan al-Kharrat. They transcribed a ten-page interroga- 
tion, in French translation, before his death. The issue of waiting for more 
rebel fighters was contentious and clearly hotly argued at the time, particu- 
larly after the failure of the attack on Damascus and the apportionment of 
blame. Fakhrf al-Kharrat claimed confusedly that the Druze who were al- 
ready with them brought news that Sultan al-Atrash and a large force would 
soon join them. The following day Nasib al-Bakri told Fakhrf’s father, Hasan 
al-Kharrat, that he had received a letter from some unnamed Druze of the 
Jabal, refusing to come and join them. Fakhrf al-Kharrat reported immedi- 
ately thereafter that Nasib and his father decided not to wait for Sultan al- 
Atrash. It bears mention that this was an interrogation transcript, translated 
from one language to another, and probably extracted under torture or at least 
threat of torture. 70 

Surviving insurgents criticized Nasib al Bakri’s role in the attack. Sa'id 
al- As bitterly denounced him for not waiting when he knew that Sultan al- 
Atrash’s force was coming and for trying to take Damascus with tiny, poorly 
coordinated forces without a clear plan. Al-As claimed that Nasib wanted 
the glory for himself and decried the folly of trying to take Damascus with 
250 men. The British consul documented that the Druze band, numbering 
at least 1,000, eventually showed up under the command of Zayd al-Atrash, 
Sultan’s brother. 71 

Damascus had finally risen. Its rallying cry was not the eloquent and im- 
passioned appeals of its nationalist politicians, but the surprising call of ordi- 
nary Muslim Damascenes, “The Druze are coming!” Damascus’ nationalist 
leadership had not inspired or led the uprising. Many of the nationalist elite 
had been forced to flee the city in any case. The city’s traditional notable 
leadership and the members of its great families disavowed any role or re- 
sponsibility for the uprising and were concerned with ensuring the security 
of their property against marauding rioters and later from French bombard- 
ment. Only a few of Damascus’ leading citizens — mostly grain merchants 
from Maydan, and only one from the higher reaches of Damascene society 
(Nasib al-Bakri) — were directly involved in the uprising in Damascus. The 
major grain merchant family al-Mahayni played a central role in facilitating 
the revolt by providing a meeting place and entry into Damascus from May- 

Rebellion in Damascus 


dan. Even they eventually begged the insurgents to leave before the French 
destroyed the city The Mahaynis were different from other Damascene not- 
able families, however, in that their wealth was based almost entirely on the 
grain trade in Hawran and not on the ownership of land. They were also un- 
usual in that they exercised their considerable local power primarily in their 
quarter, Maydan (which they dominated, together with the grain merchant 
Sukkar family), and not in city or nationalist politics more generally . 72 Subhi 
al-Mahayni and ‘Abd al-Qadir Sukkar would both lead bands of insurgents 
in the Ghuta and in the city itself in the following months. The uprising had 
spread throughout southern Syria. 


The Politics of Rebellion 

The strength of the movement is in the middle and lower classes, 
who, indeed, reproach the notables for their lack of co-operation . . . 
What constitutes the difficulties at Damascus is universal popular 
support for the rebels . . . The guerrilla [war] in the city is rendered 
possible by the universal complicity of the humbler inhabitants, who 
are not far from regarding the rebels as heroes. My barber, for 
instance, did not hesitate to compare them to “Antar,” the hero of 
popular Arab legend, much to [his] disadvantage, who, he pointed 
out, never had to fight against artillery, tanks and aeroplanes. 1 

T he bombardment of Damascus changed the direction of the uprising. 
The nationalist leadership of Damascus had fled abroad or to Jabal 
Hawran. Some were in jail. Impassioned and artful appeals to patrio- 
tism and nationalism nailed to shop doors and passed from hand to hand in 
the bazaar stopped too. Still, the insurgency expanded every day in the region 
surrounding Damascus. Intelligence records show that thousands of Syrian 
men and women took part in the revolt during these months. The documents 
of their enemies are the best and in some cases the only written record of their 
actions. Many of their names are recorded nowhere else. This chapter reads 
these records backward, in direct contradiction to what mandate chroniclers 
intended, to uncover the consciousness of the mandate’s enemies in its own 
records. And while there is a collective consciousness hidden in negative re- 
lief in the records of resistance and suppression, these same traces show that 
the elements that made up this collective consciousness differed from region 
to region and from person to person. 

The mandate authorities collected letters and directives passed between 
rebels and between other Syrian citizens. The letters speak in the name of the 
Syrian Arab nation and deal with matters both patriotic and venal. Memoir 
accounts also add to the composite picture of an insurgent consciousness and 
emerging national identity, made up of sometimes wildly disparate and seem- 
ingly inconsistent elements. This inconsistency could be a source of strength 

The Politics of Rebellion 


for the insurgents, however; because while rebels agreed on common mem- 
bership in a Syrian national community, they remained free to articulate and 
imagine independently what membership meant. The debates over the mem- 
bership and meaning of national community were contentious. Some insur- 
gents argued that the evolving nation should be secular and nonsectarian, 
while others argued for Islamic symbols of identity that excluded minorities. 
In this chapter I have not tried to impose order and consistency where little 
was evident. Instead, I have tried to let these fragmentary sources speak to 
demonstrate the uncompromised vitality of a subaltern nationalist insurgency. 

France continued to fight the rebellion on a variety of fronts. The bom- 
bardment of Damascus and the resulting international outcry led to a shakeup 
in Paris and the recall and replacement of General Sarrail. His successor was 
Henry de Jouvenel, a prominent journalist and the first civilian high com- 
missioner of the mandate. Meanwhile French intelligence officers carefully 
recorded all ongoing rebel activity— while doggedly arguing that all resis- 
tance was the work of bandits and outlaws. Disturbances were also blamed on 
a variety of outside elements, since French political leaders wished to avoid 
acknowledging the tremendous opposition to French rule among ordinary 

Mandate forces continued to bomb and shell numerous villages, neigh- 
borhoods, and suburbs in the region of Damascus. Typically troops and ar- 
mored vehicles entered only after intensive bombardment. Having learned 
the lesson of late October, and the fate of General Sarrail, mandate forces 
avoided shelling the areas of Damascus where foreign embassies and missions 
resided. Christian villages in the mountains were compelled to swear alle- 
giance to France and to accept weapons to fight against insurgents. Oaths of 
allegiance were solicited and received from major urban notables in Damas- 
cus and Hamah and from leaders of the various bedouin tribes. French intel- 
ligence and political agents cultivated spies and politicians among the Syrian 
population in an endless search for “friends of France.” Such people often 
made proclamations of undying loyalty to France and the colonial mission, 
which figured prominently in intelligence documents prepared for Paris and 
the new high commissioner, Henry de Jouvenel. 

Despite months of agitation and countless pamphlets and proclamations, 
the French bombardment of Damascus ended any organized mobilization in 
the city. The city’s destruction indelibly underscored the inability of the urban 
elite to lead resistance. But the effects of the bombardment were not what 
mandate authorities had hoped. Resistance shifted back to the Ghuta and 
the surrounding countryside. The destruction of their city failed to pacify the 


The Politics of Rebellion 

population with fear and led to an outraged expansion of rebel activity, espe- 
cially among the more humble inhabitants. Guerrilla bands soon gained con- 
trol of the countryside on all sides of the city They continually cut the lines 
of communication by road, telephone, and train, on all sides of the city Da- 
mascus went days on end virtually cut off from outside contact. Large areas 
of the old city were in rebel hands night after night. Contemporary sources 
document that the southern region was completely under the control of the 
insurgents. It took more than a year, and massive reinforcements of troops 
and equipment, for the mandatory power to regain effective control of the 
countryside of Damascus. 


On 2 November 1925 the Druze finally advanced on Damascus. Zayd al- 
Atrash, younger brother of Sultan, approached the city with at least 1,000 
men. But before they arrived, ‘Abd al-Qadir Sukkar and Subhi al-Mahayni— 
two Maydan quarter leaders, grain merchants, and close associates of several 
Hawran Druze shaykhs — went and advised them not to enter the ruined city 
but to carry the attack to mandate forces in the countryside. Both ‘Abd al- 
Qadir Sukkar and Subhi al-Mahayni had been in contact with the insurgents 
for weeks. Mahayni had provided his house for a meeting point during the 
first foray into Damascus. Both soon organized bands to fight inside and out- 
side the city; but days after the bombardment they spoke with an authority 
that the Hawran Druze insurgents evidently respected: the cost of French 
vengeance was too high. Zayd al-Atrash replied that they would gladly fight 
in the open, and they left to attack French installations in the southern Anti- 
Lebanon mountains. 2 

By the end of the first week of N ovember at least three or four maj or bands 
were active in the area around Damascus. Former army officers and Dama- 
scene quarter toughs led mixed bands of Ghuta villagers and city youth. Zayd 
al-Atrash and Muhammad ‘Izz al-Din al-Halabi led bands of Druze and de- 
mobilized soldiers and spoke for secular Syrian Arab nationalism. Hasan al- 
Kharrat, former night watchman from al-Shaghur quarter, led Damascene 
and Ghuta villagers and mixed popular religion and patriotic banditry. Rama- 
dan Shallash led bedouin and mountain villagers and also mixed religion, 
patriotism, and banditry. The ‘Akash brothers’ band dominated the Barada 
River gorge near their native Dummar and were principally interested in ban- 
ditry. Apparently their enthusiasm for pillage sometimes attracted rebels from 

Insurgents in the Countryside of Damascus 


other bands to join them and leave their original comrades. 3 Abd al-Qadir 
Sukkar, the Maydani grain merchant who had urged the Druze to stay out of 
Damascus early in November, soon led a large band from his quarter. 

Abd al-Qadir Sukkar was born in 1867 and was almost sixty years old in 
1925. He was a legend in the quarter of Maydan. The Sukkar family had come 
to prominence in Maydan in the late nineteenth century due to its involve- 
ment in the Hawran grain business. Sukkar had organized fighters for the 
battle of Maysalun in 1920 and fed the poor in the quarter. Members of the 
family had served on the Ottoman majlis al-baladi (local council) but had not 
been considered part of the notable elite of Damascus. As in the case of the 
other grain merchant families, their educational and class background limited 
their political influence to Maydan. 4 Abd al-Qadir and his younger brothers 
Muhammad and Mustafa and various nephews and cousins, along with mem- 
bers of the grain merchant Mahayni family, prevented the assertion of French 
control of the Maydan and the surrounding Ghuta into 1927. French forces 
eventually destroyed their quarter, and Sukkar and his brothers were in exile 
until the declaration of general amnesty in I937- 5 Sukkar collaborated closely 
with the Druze and former officers and spoke with both religious and nation- 
alist authority. 

The bands’ sphere of operations ranged from al-Nabk in the north along 
the Hums road at the edge of the desert to the Hawran in the south and the 
Anti-Lebanon mountains west of Damascus. Intelligence reports from early 
November 1925 show their activities in meticulous though often contradic- 
tory detail. The bands each had a village or quarter base, but they frequently 
joined forces for operations in neighboring areas. They funded their activi- 
ties by levying men, weapons, and money from villages and landlords. French 
sources estimated 5,000 armed rebels in the countryside of Damascus. 

Muhammad ‘Izz al-Din al-Halabi, former Ottoman officer and Druze 
shaykh, led the largest and best-organized group in the Ghuta. ‘Izz al-Din 
al-Halabi enjoyed good relations with other graduates of the Ottoman Mili- 
tary College and former military officers such as Ramadan Shallash, Sa'id al- 
As, Fawzi al-Qawuqji, Zaki al-Durubi, Zaki al-Halabi, Yusuf al-Hayati, and 
many others. Sultan al-Atrash’s twenty-year-old brother Zayd was often at 
his side. The Druze operated with men from Maydan under the command of 
Abd al-Qadir Sukkar. Maydanis in the grain business and Druze shaykhs of 
Jabal Hawran cooperated closely and easily as they had during the Great War 
and for decades before. Mandate authorities collected a series of letters ad- 
dressed to wealthy merchants of Maydan from late November and December. 

figure 6. Muhammad ‘Izz al-Din al-Halabi (center), leading insurgents in the 
Ghuta. Courtesy Markaz al-Watha’iq al-Tarikhiyya. 

The letters document efforts to levy support for the insurgency and the poli- 
tics behind the revolt. They show that rebels also agreed conditionally on the 
meaning of Syrian Arab nationalism and on the goal of the armed struggle. 
In their letters, national survival and the immediate demands of waging war 
preempt carefully crafted arguments for independence. They assumed broad 
agreement on Syrian nationalism and patriotism, and the rebels did not see 
the need to defend or explain the existence of a national community requir- 
ing patriotic sacrifice. It is hard to imagine that such assumptions could have 
been made only ten years before in the midst of World War I. 

The bombardment of Damascus ended direct elite engagement in the re- 
volt. People’s Party members who had drafted articulate appeals to patriotism 
and nationalism had fled. Most of the remaining members of the landown- 
ing and mercantile elite of Damascus were not interested in armed confron- 
tation with France. The rebel leaders of the countryside continued to cre- 
ate documents, however, and they directly addressed the ideology of revolt 
and the lack of cooperation of wealthy Syrians. When Abd al-Qadir Sukkar 
wrote to his neighbors in Maydan demanding support, he knew the recipi- 
ent of his letters. Letters differed substantially in tone, depending on whether 
they sought insurgent recruits from a humble village, material support from a 
merchant of Maydan, or vast sums of money from major landowners notori- 

Insurgents in the Countryside of Damascus 


ously aligned with the mandate government. Intelligence officers usually re- 
ceived letters from addressees who petitioned the mandate power in vain for 
protection from insurgent demands. Villages and neighborhoods were some- 
times split between those families that went over to the rebels and those 
families that aligned with the government. Even today Syrians continue to 
trace neighborhood and village feuds to the tumultuous months of 1925 and 

To Sayyid Abu Tawfiq al-Hakim and all members of his family: 


You know that the question of the homeland is foremost for all, and its deliv- 
erance from the hands of the enemies will not be realized without money. After 
discussion with the shaykhs and amirs, the Commander imposes on you a pay- 
ment of 200 Turkish pounds, and warns you to pay promptly. Salutations to 
those who serve the cause of the Arab Nation. 

22 November 1925 

The Commander in Chief 

Abd al-Qadir Sukkar b 

Honored Notables of Maydan: 


You are surely aware of the honorable goals for which the nationalist revo- 
lutionaries struggle. There is no other aim than to deliver the homeland from 
the yoke of tyranny and to imitate the history of our ancestors. The nationalist 
revolutionaries struggle heroically for the cause of Syria and to force the enemy's 

Despite repeated nationalist victories with the help of God, and despite your 
perfect familiarity with our struggle for the national cause, and the complete 
independence of Syria, we notice your negligence in assisting the nationalist 

You have not contributed men or money. This makes us doubt the patriotism 
and the good faith of some among you. We call on you to show your good inten- 
tions, and present a positive example of the national cause to all the world, as did 
your ancestors. 

Arab national zeal and your religious duties obligate you to unite with us and 
support us with your men and your finances. You must not allow the triumph of 


The Politics of Rebellion 

those who speak for the colonizers. No one else has the right to address the Syrian 
question on behalf of the Syrian Revolutionaries. 

We ask that you send 7500-2000 ‘aba’ at [cloaks], of the bedouin style, and 
funds to allow the purchase of rifles, cartridges, wheat, and barley. Do not delay. 
We send our salutations to all the world. 

j December 1925 

Commander in Chief of the region of 
Ghuta, Muhammad c Izz 
al-Din al-Halabi, Mujahidin Abd 
al-Qadir Sukkar, and Muhi al-Din 
Habdb 7 

To Sayyid Abu Jamil bin Isma‘il al-Aktaa [sic]: 


You know well that the national cause cannot be realized without money. 
Consequently, the regional commander requests that you send 200 Turkish 
pounds, 70 ‘aba’af [cloaks], 2 German rifles, and two full cases of cartridges. 

Attention: we warn you, do not delay. 

Salutations to all who serve the Syrian 
national cause. 

4 December 1925 

Commander Abd al-Qadir Sukkar 8 

Despite the claims of the French and the protests made by the recipients 
of such letters, the demands were not simple extortion. The writers of these 
letters believed in their uprising and quite clearly believed themselves to be at 
the forefront of a national struggle. Sukkar and ‘Izz al-Din al-Halabi spoke 
for a subaltern national uprising, but they also invoked consultations with 
elite Syrians, in the form of shaykhs and amirs. The letters repeat the asser- 
tion that the rebels possess the right to speak and act for the nation. 

The guerrilla war required money and material assistance. The quarter’s 
humble inhabitants provided foot soldiers, shelter, and intelligence. Wealthy 
notables were almost invariably called upon to provide Mauser rifles and bed- 
ouin clothing for the rebels. Mauser rifles, of German or Turkish licensed 
manufacture, were left over from the war and used smokeless powder and a 
bolt-action mechanism. The rebels had some similar rifles of British manu- 
facture, also left over from the war. Older Ottoman Martini army rifles were 

Insurgents in the Countryside of Damascus 


figure 7. Rebels in Maydan (front row, left to right): c Abd al-Qadir Sukkar, Sa c id 
al- As, Shaykh Muhammad al-Ashmar. Courtesy Markaz al-Watha J iq al-Tarikhiyya. 

widely used, but the rebels vastly favored the modern technology for its greater 
effectiveness. They carried swords and captured grenades and light machine 
guns from the French. 

Rebel dress had important symbolic significance. The widespread adop- 
tion of rough traditional dress (typically of the style worn by bedouin and the 
rural Druze) and the total absence of elite Ottoman trappings (such as fezzes 
and frock coats among the rebels) indicate unambiguously the rural and non- 
elite character of the revolt. Nationalist intellectuals and elites like Dr. ‘Abd 
al-Rahman al-Shahbandar and Nasib al-Bakri adopted bedouin headgear 
and cloaks when they were photographed among rebels of the countryside. 
The adoption of peasant and bedouin dress by elites represented a symboli- 
cally significant inversion of the status quo. The emphasis on traditional rural 
dress and the accompanying cultural and national symbolism was notable in 
later revolts against European rule too, including Palestine in 1936, which 
ultimately gave the Palestinian national movement its enduring symbol, the 
checkered kufiyya head scarf. 9 

The aims of the insurgents were clear: the expulsion of France and the in- 
dependence of Syria. Night after night they engaged mandate forces in battle 
in Maydan and the surrounding orchards and gardens. Entire villages were 


The Politics of Rebellion 

reported to have joined them for attacks, such as the attack on the night of 
5 December when 2,000 rebels descended on the barracks at al-Qadam on 
the railroad south of Damascus. Khalil Bassali, mukhtar of the large village 
of Darya, brought hundreds of men from his village to join a force described 
as Druze, bedouin, Damascenes, Maydanis, and peasants from five listed vil- 
lages. Leading the attack were Sukkar, ‘Izz al-Din al-Halabi, Zayd al-Atrash, 
and Hasan al-Kharrat. While intelligence reports claimed very large num- 
bers of attackers, they also provided assured numbers of wounded and dead 
rebels. Reports indicated that each band miraculously had regained its former 
strength by the following night. 10 

The band of Jum'a Sawsaq, a former mukhtar from the Anti-Lebanon 
mountain village of Rankus, ranged from the region of al-Nabk on the edge of 
the desert to around Rankus and south to Zabadani. He was accompanied by 
his friend Ramadan Shallash, bedouin horsemen, and local peasants in num- 
bers reported to range from 600 up to 1,000 men, some of whom did not have 
rifles. In early November Sawsaq and Shallash began to call themselves (with 
sanction from Sultan al-Atrash) joint commanders of a unit of the National 
Army. The French viewed this development with horror, since, as an intelli- 
gence officer noted, it was likely to “attract young nationalists, and xenopho- 
bic partisans of all classes. It is feared that this organization, if consolidated, 
would be reinforced and funded by foreign pan- Arab committees.” 11 

A few days later intelligence officers reported that Ramadan Shallash and 
Jum'a Sawsaq had visited a number of villages in the region of al-Nabk, in 
the mountains north of Damascus. Typically they arrived in secret at night, 
gathered some of the villagers, and captured and disarmed the local gendar- 
merie. After taking over a village and pillaging government offices, and per- 
haps the homes of pro-mandate villagers, Ramadan Shallash often spoke pub- 
licly in the center of the town. According to mandate intelligence, Shallash 
would call the villagers to arms by announcing that they were all engaged in a 
struggle like that of Ghazi Mustafa Kemal and telling the villagers that their 
village was like Ankara in 1920. This was apparently wildly popular among 
Muslim and Christian villagers. 12 

Mandate intelligence also collected and preserved Ramadan Shallash’s 
letters. He wrote nearly daily demand letters to the mukhtars, of various vil- 
lages and to big landlords of the same regions. The letters differ dramatically 
based on their intended audience. Like the appeals of Fawzi al-Qawuqji in 
Hamah, Shallash’s appeal to villages mixed patriotism, popular religion, and 
tribal honor. When he wrote to landlords, he relied upon threats of violence. 

Insurgents In the Countryside of Damascus 


To the mukhtan and shaykhs of the village of Qutayfa , 

Greetings and blessings of God. 

We need you to gather your mujahidin and leave one part to guard your 
village from the [French] troops and bring the other part to Yabrud tomor- 
row for the greater glory of the religion of Islam. If you bring them late, you 
will be responsible before God and before the partisans. If you do not respond to 
this appeal, and assemble [the mujahidin/ today, we will come and take them 

14 October 1925 
General Ramadan Shallash 

To our brothers, the notables and the shaykhs of the village of Qutayfa, 


We have written previously to you on the subject of sending your muja- 
hidin to cooperate with your brothers the mujahidin of Jabal Qalamun. But 
unfortunately we have not received a response from you. 

Brothers, if you are among those who wish to deliver the country from the 
yoke of the colonizers, and save the honor of the Arab nation, as well as the honor 
of its women, hasten to gather and send your mujahadin to Asal al-Ward. If you 
do not intend to respond to this request, we will know. 

j December 1925 

Ramadan Shallash, ]um‘a Sawsaq u 

Shallash used a different approach to Sa'id Bey Shishshakli, principal 
landlord and notable of Duma. The Shishaklis were the richest family in 
the fertile agricultural town of Duma, and Sa'id’s son Wadi' had served in the 
French-sponsored administrative council since 1922. 14 Shallash wrote in the 
name of the Arab army and complained that earlier letters had been deliv- 
ered to the “enemy of the nation,” the French army — which, he pointed out, 
made Shishakli an enemy too. In consequence Shishakli now had a choice be- 
tween the destruction of his house and the immediate payment of 250 gold 
pounds. Shishakli apparently did not pay the extortion demand; because a 
month later, on 29 November 1925, Shallash wrote again, this time demand- 
ing 2,000 Ottoman gold pounds. In his second letter Shallash dispensed with 
calls to national duty and utilized exclusively religious language, including a 
religious injunction: “God requires Muslims who follow Flim and his Prophet 
to make jihad, ‘Undertake jihad with your possessions and your person’; it 


The Politics of Rebellion 

follows then that you should conform to the requirements of God and that 
you should send 2,000 for the maintenance of the army of the mujahidin .” 15 
Shallash was more successful in his request to the village of Qutayfa, since 
mandate intelligence noted that a number of village men soon joined him. 
He was also eventually accused by his fellow insurgents of criminal extortion 
against the. people of Duma, about which more will be said shortly 

Like other rebel leaders, Ramadan Shallash had a long history of militant 
resistance to the mandate. He was born in the region of Dayr al-Zur along the 
Euphrates River in the late 1880s. He was the son of a locally influential bed- 
ouin chief from the Busaraya tribe, and while he was a teenager he traveled to 
Istanbul to attend the Tribal School. 16 Shallash later attended the Ottoman 
Military Academy, served in the Ottoman army in Libya and the Balkans, 
and joined the Arab Revolt with Amir Faysal in 1917. He fought alongside 
Ibrahim Hananu against the French in the early 1920s. The mandate power 
had condemned him in absentia, and he had been living in exile in Transjor- 
dan. Shallash had long been friends with Muhammad ‘Izz al-Din al-Halabi, 
Ali Faris al-Atrash, Sa'id al- As, Fawzi al-Qawuqji, and other former Otto- 
man officers among the insurgent leadership. He had come from Transjordan 
to Jabal Hawran early in September 1925, accompanied by a small number of 
armed horsemen. 

Other bands were active all over the region of Damascus. Hasan al- 
Kharrat operated in the Ghuta and relatively close to his base in the al- 
Shaghur quarter. Kharrat was active in the eastern Ghuta, especially in the 
heavily wooded marshland of al-Zur. He and his band made many forays 
into Damascus itself under cover of night. During one of these nighttime 
raids, shortly after the bombardment of Damascus, mandate forces captured 
Kharrat ’s son, Fakhri al-Kharrat. They promised to spare his life if Hasan 
would surrender; but he refused, and Fakhri al-Kharrat was publicly executed 
in Marja Square early in 1926. 17 

Hasan al-Kharrat also signed demand letters to prominent Syrians. Un- 
like the others, however, several of his original letters were preserved. The 
wide variations in the handwriting of Kharrat ’s letters indicate that he dic- 
tated them and suggest he was probably illiterate. Kharrat did not let his mod- 
est background and educational attainments stand in the way of his political 
agitation, and he communicated to newspapers and posted open letters to the 
Syrian population. In the letter that follows he calls for a general strike but 
also issues a blood-chilling and prescient threat to Damascene elites. No one, 
he states categorically, may associate with Jouvenel or negotiate with French 
authorities on behalf of the rebels. All the insurgent leaders clearly dreaded 

Insurgents in the Countryside of Damascus 


betrayal and marginalization by Syrian elites, fearing that the elites would 
force them into exile, or capture, in collaboration with the mandate authority. 
Kharrat and his comrades recognized and intended that the popular mobiliza- 
tion and armed revolt should present a threat both to the mandate power and 
to Syria’s elite politicians. Their fears turned out to be well founded, though 
Kharrat was killed rather than captured or exiled. He remains a folk hero in 
Damascus today. 

To all the Population of Syria: 

The French High Commissioner will arrive shortly in Syria and visit 
Damascus. All inhabitants must, as a sign of protest against French colonialism, 
abstain from associating with him, and not engage in talks with him, so that he 
knows that the French Government is totally unacceptable to us, and so that they 
will leave this country and leave us to govern ourselves. 

Anyone who disregards this directive will be severely punished, and his house 
will be destroyed. We have Damascus under surveillance in order to reveal those 
who do not conform to this directive. 

5 December 1925 

Commander of mujahidin of Ghuta Shaykh of Islam 

Hasan al-Kharrat Muhammad Hijazi KilanW 

Shortly before his death on 25 December Kharrat dictated demands to a 
prominent Greek Orthodox Christian of Damascus, Amin Mamluk. Khar- 
rat’s letter begins by assuring Mamluk that the letter pertains to matters patri- 
otic and has nothing to do with religion. He then immediately demands 800 
Ottoman gold pounds within twenty-four hours or, as a substitute, fifty rifles 
with ammunition and thirty Christian men under arms. Kharrat evidently 
expected the demand for men and weapons to be taken seriously, because he 
goes on to list qualifications for the men. They must be from the Patriarch- 
ate, which is to say they must be Greek Orthodox. Further, Kharrat lists the 
neighborhoods from which they may come. “Reassure their families that they 
will be safe [with us],” he says, “but if you fail to pay this levy, you and your 
family will be killed and your house destroyed.” After details of proposed 
meetings and invocations of God and independence, he again reassures the 
addressee that this is not a matter of religion by stating that similar demands 
will be made of the Muslims and Jews. He signs as “the patriot Hasan al- 
Kharrat.” 19 The unmistakable impression is that Kharrat sought men more 
than money and wanted to include Christians among his rebels. 


The Politics of Rebellion 

This short letter challenges two central claims made by mandate chroni- 
clers. It demonstrates, first, that— contrary to claims of sectarian fanaticism 
of Damascene Muslims against their Christian neighbors — even the up- 
rising’s most humble leaders attempted to expand the revolt to include Syria’s 
non-Muslims and sought to appear even-handed toward them. It demon- 
strates, second, that— contrary to ceaseless mandate claims of banditry and 
pillage as the principal aim of the rebels— their primary aim, at least some of 
the time, was to further the albeit vaguely stated cause of the revolt itself. But 
some bands were more interested in pillage than patriotism. 

Sa'id Akash and his band operated west of Damascus in the Barada River 
valley, winding up into the Anti-Lebanon mountains. 20 They menaced the 
train and auto route to Beirut with devastating and fearless effectiveness 
through 1925 and 1926. They apparently did not much differentiate among 
French soldiers, European civilians, wealthy Syrian merchants, and certain 
rival bands, attacking and robbing all with equal enthusiasm. They took part 
in some of the operations in the Ghuta as well. Sa'id Akash’s younger broth- 
ers, Ahmad and Abdu, sometimes seem to have cooperated with other bands 
for individual attacks; but the Akash were generally characterized by fierce 
independence and lawlessness. In late 1925 Abdu Akash killed the insurgent 
leader of the Kurdish al-Salihiyya band, Ahmad al-Mala 5 al-Kurdi. Kurdish 
rebels soon retaliated and killed Abdu in the Wadi Barada village of Qud- 

The feud between the Kurds and the Akash threatened to do serious harm 
to the revolt; early in 1926 insurgent leader Abu ‘Umar Dibu Agha from the 
Ghuta village of Harasta convened a truce between the two warring parties. 
The truce, however, did not hold; and they continued to kill each other more 
fervently than they killed mandate soldiers. Sa'id ‘Akash was in exile under 
death sentence until the late 1930s, and he was continually passed over for am- 
nesty, since the mandate government claimed that he was a common crimi- 
nal and murderer. Sa'id, Muhammad, and Abdallah ‘Akash were members 
of two tiny groups denied amnesty in the final amnesty decree of 1937. The 
first group, which included Fawzi al-Qawuqji and six others, was permanently 
condemned for political crimes. The second group, which included the three 
‘Akash brothers and four others, was permanently condemned for common- 
law crimes. Shortly after he finally returned to Damascus in 1941, Sa'id ‘Akash 
was assassinated by a Kurd named Mar'ai al-Barafi in the vegetable market 
adjoining Marja Square in central Damascus. 21 

In addition to Ghuta and mountain villagers, large groups of bedouin fre- 
quently joined one band or another and appear in intelligence reports. The 

Insurgents in the Countryside of Damascus 


bedouin were often under the command of Ramadan Shallash 22 He was 
sometimes joined by his friend, “le Capitaine deserteur,” Fawzi al-Qawuqji. 
They were usually accompanied by other men from the region of al-Nabk, in- 
cluding Khalas al-Nahir, Khalid al-Nafawri, andTawfiq al-Haydar, a younger 
brother of Said al-Haydar, a member of Dr. Shahbandar’s Hizb al-Sha‘b. 
Said al-Haydar had gone to prison in 1922 with Shahbandar and fled to the 
Jabal Druze with him early in the revolt. 23 These men appear repeatedly in 
the reports and clearly cooperated with any number of other rebels in nearly 
every region. 24 

The insurgents, with limited outside supplies, lived off the land and took 
from villagers and quarter dwellers what they needed for sustenance. They 
called their levies revolt taxes. French sources inevitably called such levies pil- 
lage. Typically the rebels demanded recruits, guns, cloaks, food, or gold. As 
the letters above illustrate, the notion of pillage does not begin to explain 
the range of these activities. In the first place, villagers often willingly sup- 
ported the rebellion as their resources allowed, including passing intelligence 
to insurgents, housing them, feeding them, actively spreading disinformation 
about the rebels, and finally simply joining their ranks. In the second place, 
many of the most serious examples of pillage and property destruction in- 
volved French troops and not rebels. Insurgents extorted money, supplies, and 
involuntary recruits from uncooperative villages; French forces indiscrimi- 
nately pillaged and razed villages and shot inhabitants who were perceived to 
oppose mandate rule— even if their only crime was refusal to pay taxes or the 
suspicion that they had harbored rebels, voluntarily or involuntarily. 25 Finally, 
in the Ghuta and the regions north of Damascus in the mountains on the 
way to Hums there was no government presence from November 1925 until 
the following summer. In regions where there was little government pres- 
ence, mandate officials gave weapons to pro-mandate villagers in order to fight 
against the rebels. Rebel leaders knew of the policy and aimed to seize these 
weapons. Insurgents demanded vast quantities of weapons from the most 
humble villages. The mandate power armed Greek Catholic and Maronite 
peasants against their neighbors all over the Anti-Lebanon mountain range 
between Hums and the border with Palestine. 

One of these villages was Ma‘ alula in the mountains north of Damas- 
cus. In November 1925 Ramadan Shallash wrote a letter to the inhabitants of 
Ma‘ alula, demanding: 

Ottoman gold pounds 

140 rifles 


The Politics of Rebellion 

io cases of rifle cartridges 
io sacks of rice 
ioo sheep 
5 revolvers 
ioo grenades 
20 sacks of flour 
20 sacks of cracked wheat 
io flasks of ? 

5 mules 26 

Ma‘ alula was and is a medium-sized village in an arid region, and these 
demands would have been wildly optimistic under normal circumstances. The 
village sits in a deep Y-shaped limestone gorge; and its buildings, churches, 
and mosques perch along the walls of the gorge in picturesque fashion. It is 
famous throughout Syria for the fact that its mixed Muslim and Christian 
villagers speak Aramaic and for its two early Christian monasteries, one of 
which, Mar Sirjus, converted to Greek Catholicism in the eighteenth cen- 
tury. Ma‘ alula suffered heavy insurgent demands, as many villagers went over 
to the rebellion and others, especially Uniate villagers, helplessly and futilely 
called on the French for protection. 

The officer who reproduced this demand letter for mandate intelligence 
failed to explain why a village like Ma‘ alula would be so prodigiously armed. 
Other sources, however, were more forthcoming. British consular reports 
from November 1925 indicate that French authorities had provided rifles and 
ammunition to Christian young men in a number of mountain villages. The 
acting British consul general in Beirut wrote of this policy: “At best it was a 
confession of weakness. It laid the mandatory Power open to the dangerous 
suggestion that, perhaps without realizing the consequences, they had en- 
couraged not only civil but also religious war ... it never occurred to anyone 
that the volunteers would be anything but Christians.” 27 Other contemporary 
reports were less credulous about the ultimate intentions of France’s policy of 
arming Christians and about French knowledge of the policy’s possible con- 
sequences. The United States consul at Beirut likewise reported the whole- 
sale arming of Christians, but he believed not only that mandate authorities 
understood the dangers of inciting one religious community against another 
but that they actively sought to exacerbate sectarian divisions. 28 Mandate 
authorities claimed that sectarian cleavages were endemic, and only France 
could protect the Christians of the East from the predations of their neigh- 
bors. Insurgent documents tell a more complicated story. 

Insurgents in the Countryside of Damascus 


Christian villages often split between those who supported the revolt and 
those who supported the mandate. Sometimes villagers used the war between 
insurgents and the French to prosecute local feuds. In the final months of 1925 
rebels called on and requested food from the Greek Catholic mukhtar of the 
village of Saydnaya. The mukhtar protested that he could only feed ten and 
sent them to visit the mother superior of the Greek Orthodox convent that 
dominates Saydnaya. She offered to feed them all and undertook a collection 
from the village so that any rebels who appeared could be fed once each week. 
Elderly villagers remember collecting and herding sheep for the weekly col- 
lection. 29 It seems likely that the collection was not totally voluntary and may 
have exacerbated divisions between Orthodox and Catholic villagers over the 
revolt. Many elderly Syrians have reported that Orthodox Christians were 
generally more supportive of the revolt and the nationalist program, while 
Catholic Christians were generally more supportive of the French govern- 

After the end of the revolt in Saydnaya in 1928, and months after the 
mandate government reasserted control of the region, members of the Greek 
Catholic al-Ahmar family killed a member of the Greek Orthodox al-Naddaf 
family. The families were two of the largest and most prominent in the vil- 
lage. A lengthy file found its way into the mandate archives in connection 
with the case, including arrest warrants, legal briefs, and requests for amnesty. 
In 1928 and 1929 Tawfiq and Ibrahim b. Ilyas al-Ahmar, Niqula b. Butrus al- 
Ahmar, and Musa b. ‘Abduh al-Ahmar were tried and sentenced to five years 
at hard labor for the revenge murder of an unspecified member of the Naddaf 
family. The court stated that the murder was in retaliation for an act of arson 
committed by the Naddaf family against Ahmar family property during the 
revolt . 30 

Today elderly villagers remember the incident differently. Both families 
were large and rich; but while the Naddaf family was popular and well re- 
garded, the Ahmar family was disliked and resented for its wealth and arro- 
gance. Members of the Naddaf family joined the rebellion and were active in 
the region. The Ahmar family was aligned with the French and reported Nad- 
daf rebel activities to the mandate authorities. The revolt was widely popu- 
lar in Saydnaya, and the Ahmar family became increasingly unpopular for its 
position. During the revolt, a member of the Naddaf family killed at least 
one member of the Ahmar family, reportedly in retaliation for collaboration 
with French agents. After the reassertion of mandate control over the region 
in 1928, the killing was avenged by an Ahmar. A trial and sentencing of the 
Ahmar family members took place. 31 


The Politics of Rebellion 

In 1930 an attorney for the Ahmar family filed a request for amnesty for 
the Ahmars still in prison. The attorney, Elias Namour, stated that during 
the revolt Saydnaya had been isolated from government control. He claimed 
that during this time members of the Naddaf family, taking advantage of the 
disorder and in league with the insurgents, killed a member of the Ahmar 
family. The lawyer contended that, although the revenge against the Naddaf 
family was the work of only one unspecified member of the Ahmar family, 
the Naddaf family sought charges against fourteen Ahmar family mem- 
bers. Meanwhile the original Naddaf assassin had supposedly emigrated to 
America. 32 

The court record is obviously fragmentary and incomplete. The court 
claimed that the original crime during the revolt was arson, while the law- 
yer and living memory claimed it was murder. The only views represented 
are those of the mandate government and those of the lawyer for one of the 
parties. Members of the Naddaf family, and the insurgents they were said 
to have joined, are silent in the written record. All of those concerned, in- 
cluding the lawyer, were Christians. The case illustrates vividly how villagers 
harnessed local concerns to the power shifts of resistance and the reassertion 
of mandate control. It is impossible to say whether members of the Naddaf 
family were enthusiastic nationalist insurgents or opportunistic criminals, to 
mention two apparent, but perhaps not actual, extremes. It is of course likely 
that members of the Naddaf family encompassed all the variations between 
these two extremes, as they lived in a changing local environment, just as their 
village rivals, the Ahmar family, exploited power shifts with more or less con- 
viction to adapt themselves to life in Saydnaya under nominal insurgent or 
nominal French control. 

Rebel leaders recognized that the revolt’s success depended on Syria’s vil- 
lagers. Sultan al-Atrash and others among the leadership made efforts to calm 
fears and reassure terrified villagers that injustices brought in the name of the 
revolt would not be tolerated. Ramadan Shallash, to name one rebel leader, 
was eventually tried by his rebellious peers for victimizing villagers. His guilt 
or innocence remains obscure, but the actions of the insurgents underscore 
the fact that the meaning of patriotism and resistance was a source of conten- 
tion. While the crimes of French forces were invariably worse, revolt leaders 
could neither afford to allow crimes in the name of the revolt to go unpun- 
ished nor impose much order and discipline on the insurgency. Every leader 
claimed to be a general commander, and patriotism and plunder often went 

Elite Politics and Mandate Counterinsurgency 


Villagers, of Ghuta and Marj: 

Greetings and God’s blessings upon you. 

You know from our written manifestos that our revolution is a national 
movement for a sacred cause: the liberation of our cherished homeland from the 
clutches of the enemy colonizer. 

We have learned that some have not maintained proper behavior, and have 
come to your villages demanding money in the name of the revolution and under 
the pretext of our movement. 

We want you to know that all rebels who have come into your homes to pil- 
lage or to demand money in the name of the revolution will be tried and severely 

We have charged our police officers, Salim Bek al-Halabi and Husni Bek 
Sakhr, with the execution of these orders. They will watch over security in the 
villages, and as you have requested, they will protect you from those who have 
abused you. They will see that they are punished. 

We ask that you persevere in your conduct, which we note with great pride, 
and know that there is certain victory for the revolutionaries and for our country. 

Sultan al-Atrash 33 


European opinion was highly critical of the French bombardment of Damas- 
cus in late October. The French Senate recalled high commissioner General 
Sarrail on 30 October. While foreign observers criticized the shelling of Da- 
mascus, they were unaware of or unconcerned with the continuous bombard- 
ment of the surrounding countryside. As Philip Khoury notes, critics claimed 
that the French overreacted relative to the threat that the insurgents posed 
to the mandate. The same critics failed to question the right of the manda- 
tory power to use such force. 34 The harshest foreign criticism of the bom- 
bardment appeared in the Times of London. 35 The Times article was damning 
and provoked diplomatic protest in Damascus and Paris. Despite the outcry, 
the article concentrated on damage to property and ancient monuments, with 
less regard for loss of life and no attention at all to the grievances of the in- 
surgents. British consul Smart played a double game: he obviously gave the 
Times correspondent extensive information and access, while claiming in his 
reports that he urged moderation and restraint from “excessive indictments,” 
sure to annoy the French and encourage rebellion. 36 European critics consis- 
tently pointed to the low level of rebel organization and coordination; though 


The Politics of Rebellion 

French public sources echoed this contention, French intelligence and the 
documents of the rebels themselves tell a different story. 

Sarrail entered retirement in Paris in disgrace and died shortly thereafter. 
The job of defending his role was left to his personal secretary, who penned a 
fierce rebuttal to Sarrail’s right-wing critics. Sarrail’s successor as high com- 
missioner, Flenry de Jouvenel, arrived in Beirut in early December. Jouvenel 
began issuing press statements before his arrival. Fie indicated his willingness 
to hold peace talks with Syrian nationalists, subject to certain conditions, and 
his willingness to consider amnesty of the rebels. In addition to peace talks, 
Jouvenel promised “war for those who wish war .” 37 Jouvenel’s statements pro- 
voked immediate response in Syria. Hasan al-Kharrat’s warning has been 
discussed above, but mandate intelligence recorded other, more equivocal re- 
sponses as well. 

Subhi Barakat, president of Syria’s puppet government, quickly pro- 
claimed his loyalty to the new high commissioner. In a daily report also 
matter-of-factly chronicling the aerial and artillery bombardment of several 
Syrian villages, including lists of those wounded and killed and houses de- 
stroyed, Subhi Bek exclaimed: “My convictions are unshakable; all the French 
in Syria are my friends . .” 38 Even mandate authorities realized that such 
sycophancy lent credibility to the rebels; and in keeping with Jouvenel’s new 
policy, intelligence officers went to some trouble to cultivate and determine 
the opinion of “moderate” nationalists among elite Syrians. A lengthy survey 
on elite opinion in the wake of Jouvenel’s declarations made its way into the 

Mandate intelligence noted that elite Damascenes were generally unsym- 
pathetic to the rebellion. The young, particularly former and current law stu- 
dents, were an exception, however. Legal students, who were lumped among 
the “nationalistes extremistes,” included several young men from very promi- 
nent Damascene families. They were, according to the survey, “unable to con- 
tain their enthusiasm and were imbued with ideas of revolution and indepen- 
dence,” which they considered part of a worldwide struggle against European 
colonialism . 39 They sent letters to newspapers and sympathetic political orga- 
nization in Europe, and eventually several young lawyers joined the rebels in 
the Ghuta . 40 

The report listed notables, merchants, intellectuals, and landowners 
among the “moderate nationalists.” Such people viewed the new high com- 
missioner with reservations and noted that proclamations did not constitute 
promises, which, in any case, frequently had been broken in the past. The 
report claimed that “reasonable members of the nation, particularly big mer- 

Elite Politics and Mandate Counterinsurgency 


chants and landowners of all religions, believed that if France responds to the 
voice of the population without first suppressing the insurgents, the insurrec- 
tion would increase with disastrous consequences for the influence and pres- 
tige of France.” 41 The landowning notables clearly realized that they would 
share the disastrous consequences if mandate officials saw fit to negotiate di- 
rectly with the insurgent leadership. Intelligence officers noted that maraud- 
ing armed peasants frightened Syrian landlords more than the French army 
frightened them. Jouvenel, unlike Sarrail, recognized the basic convergence 
of interests between France and Syrian notables in pacifying the countryside. 

Jouvenel shifted mandate policy immediately. Fie first issued an offer of 
amnesty, applicable only to rank-and-file rebels and thus calculated to sepa- 
rate the Hawran Druze from their leaders. The amnesty was declared at short 
notice and could not possibly have reached all rebels before its expiration on 
6 January. Rebel leaders were informed that if they surrendered during the 
amnesty they would remain liable for imprisonment but not execution. One 
week before the expiration of the amnesty French airplanes dropped thou- 
sands of leaflets signed by Jouvenel all over Hawran. “Why do you continue 
to fight?” the leaflet asked. It vaguely promised the Druze a new constitution, 
self-rule, and the right to elect leaders. “The continuation of your struggle 
is against your hopes and against the liberty that have you fought for!” The 
leaflet blamed Sultan al-Atrash and his unnamed foreign supporters for all 
the suffering visited on Idawran but exclaimed: “Only France can give you 
wheat, running water, roads, and the national liberty you desire.” 42 A French 
officer confided to the British consul general at Beirut that the amnesty was 
not actually intended to lead to a truce but to create a favorable impression 
among Europeans before the real offensive began. 43 The amnesty led neither 
leaders nor anonymous rebels to surrender to the mandate power. 

By the third week in December Jouvenel had asked for and received the 
resignation of Subhi Barakat’s government and had made plans for the selec- 
tion of a new moderate nationalist government. To this end agents had cul- 
tivated Shaykh Taj al-Din al-Hasani (son of Shaykh Badr al-Din al-Hasani, 
Damascus’ leading Islamic scholar) and asked if he would be willing to form a 
government. On 15 December Jouvenel allowed a meeting of nationalist poli- 
ticians, not directly involved in the revolt, to discuss and submit peace terms. 
The participants included some prominent moderately pro-French notables, 
but they also included Lutfi al-Haffar and Faris al-Khuri, who were former 
members of the People’s Party. The council forwarded to Jouvenel the follow- 
ing demands: 


The Politics of Rebellion 

1 . A general amnesty. 

2. Unification of the country to include the whole of the present state of 
Syria, the territory of the Alawites, and the districts added to the pre- 
war Lebanon to form the “Grand Liban,” including Beirut and the 
other coastal towns. The prewar Lebanon would be excluded from 
this unification. The capital of united Syria would be Damascus. 

3. National Supremacy, by which is meant that the native government 
should have real authority and no longer be a figurehead; that the 
French advisors should be confined to an advisory role and should not 
as now constitute virtually the Executive. 

4. The election of a Constituent Assembly to frame the constitution of 
the new Syrian State. 

5. A limitation of the period of the French mandate, on the analogy of 
Iraq. 44 

The demands had changed little since the beginning of the revolt; and de- 
spite Jouvenel’s seemingly more receptive attitude, they remained totally un- 
acceptable to mandate authorities. Two weeks later Jouvenel’s candidate for 
president of Syria, Shaykh Taj al-Din al-Hasani, submitted a list of nearly 
identical demands as a starting point for the assembly of a new government. 
His list was no more acceptable than it had been when submitted earlier, and 
the mandate government resolved to wait for reinforcements in order to sup- 
press the uprising by overwhelming military force. Events forestalled the cos- 
metic cover of a native government. Syrians and French alike resigned them- 
selves to a bleak forecast of war. 


Daily bombing from the air continued. Towns and villages from Mount Leba- 
non east to the Anti-Lebanon range and south to the border with British- 
ruled Palestine experienced destruction from the air. The 1925 revolt was the 
first time in history that civilian populations were subjected to daily system- 
atic aerial bombardment. Homeless, ruined villagers made motivated insur- 
gents. By late December scores of villages in the area around Damascus had 
been bombed. Aerial bombardment was punishment for the crime or suspi- 
cion of harboring rebels. 

A random report reads: “The aerial bombardment of the village of Ma- 

Military Suppression and Mandate Counterinsurgency 


daya [Madaya] was conducted on 15 December with the following results: 
6 dead, 2 injured, 30 houses seriously damaged.” 45 Pro-French Damascus 
newspapers listed thirty villages damaged or destroyed, and the Syrian-Pales- 
tinian Executive Committee claimed that forty additional villages were 
bombed and not listed. 46 The village of Madaya, for example, was in the 
mountains west of Damascus near Zabadani. The mandate census lists it 
as a large village of over 1,000 inhabitants in the late 1930s. 47 The British 
consul, returning from Beirut, spoke with the qa’immaqam (district head) of 
Zabadani two days after the bombardment. The qa’immaqam reported that 
he had resigned in protest over what he described as the pointless destruc- 
tion of Madaya, which was in his district. He reported eight dead and many 
wounded and claimed that the village was innocent and had only been invol- 
untarily occupied by rebels overnight. 48 

Such attacks provided strong arguments for insurgents and strong incen- 
tive for revenge. Madaya was on the Damascus-Beirut train line, and French 
reports claimed that its train station had come under attack a few days earlier. 
Madaya was in the normal area of operations of the Sa'id Akash band. But 
the attack on the train station was reportedly the work of Jum'a Sawsaq along 
with 500 men. 49 The bands were able to concentrate their attention on the 
region west of Damascus because the areas north of the capital, stretching 
toward the area of al-Nabk, had been securely under rebel control since early 
November 1925. 50 

The Akash band, however, was reported in the Ghuta along with Rama- 
dan Shallash and Hasan al-Kharrat. The same intelligence report confirmed 
that “a number of the inhabitants of the Ghuta are joining the bands, so that 
their effectiveness increases day by day.” Meanwhile unnamed “bandits” in 
the area of Bludan, near Madaya, probably part of the Jum'a Sawsaq band, 
cut the telegraph lines and attacked an armored train and a detachment of 
gendarmes sent to guard the repair of the line. Jum'a’s brother Ahmad Saw- 
saq was still in the region of al-Nabk, their apparently more normal area of 
operation. He was reported to have joined with Khalid al-Nafawri and Taw- 
fiq al-Haydar for an attack on the train station at al-Qusayr, just south of 
Hums on the Damascus rail line. 51 

The French were unable to counter this type of warfare. People the intel- 
ligence officers described as bandits and outlaws seem to have had nearly 
superhuman powers of organization and coordination. The only response was 
aerial bombardment. After airplanes bombed the villages, tanks and troops 
followed. By then, of course, most rebels were long gone; but the villages 
were usually far from abandoned, and there was no quarter for those who did 


The Politics of Rebellion 

not leave. An account by Foreign Legion soldier Bennett Doty, who deserted 
soon after, describes the scene: 

We took part in a pleasant little punitive expedition on our second day 
here [al-Qadam, just outside Damascus]. There was a small village 
about five kilometers away, on the railroad, and some of its inhabitants 
lately had taken to the amusement of sniping at the military trains as 
they passed. Several had been killed and several more wounded. The 
caid had been ordered to produce the guilty. He had answered in the 
usual dilatory oriental manner. There had not been any shooting. If 
there had, he did not know who had done it. And anyway, he did not 
know where they were hiding; he could not produce them. 52 

This would have been in mid-October 1925 and could refer to any one of 
several villages destroyed in that month. 53 Doty goes on to describe machine- 
gunning the inhabitants who refused to flee the village, looting everything 
present, and burning the remains to the ground. He recounts that Colonel 
Andrea ordered the summary execution of all prisoners and any Syrian found 
with a firearm. 54 This was the campaign in the eastern Ghuta of late Octo- 
ber, centering on Malayha (discussed in Chapter 5). 

The Legionnaires later marched into the Maydan, the center of resis- 
tance in Damascus. French forces alternated between ignoring the quarter of 
Maydan completely and sending armored patrols to destroy some houses at 
random and then immediately leaving. Doty describes destroying inhabited 
houses in the Maydan with close-range tank and artillery fire in order to clear 
a safe path for troop movement. This was the beginning of Andrea’s opera- 
tion to create the Damascus ring road, which he started late in 1925 and fin- 
ished in February. It was a fortified security cordon isolating the city from its 
outlying districts and countryside. The cordon cut the Maydan in half. An- 
drea was promoted to general in late December 1925 and was usually cred- 
ited with crushing the revolt. 55 Eventually the quarter was destroyed, and its 
inhabitants dispersed, by the long-term concentration of artillery and aerial 

Foreign Legion and French metropolitan troops were not accused of the 
worst atrocities. The most damning charges were leveled at locally raised 
troops from the various minorities, especially Armenian refugees, Circassians, 
and French colonial troops from North and East Africa. Damascus was full 
of homeless refugees from villages destroyed and pillaged by French forces, 
and all brought stories of plunder, destruction, and misery. 

Military Suppression and Mandate Counterinsurgency 


During the recent expeditions in the Eastern Oasis [Ghuta] much 
plundering of villages and killing of villagers, not always guilty, have 
taken place. Natives state that purely French soldiers have not taken 
part in these acts of violence. The culprits are stated to be North 
African soldiers and more especially the irregulars under French com- 
mand, who consist mainly of Circassians with Armenian and Kurdish 
elements. These irregulars are a byword for every kind of rapine and 
cruelty. The presence, in these irregular formations, of Christians who, 
to add to native resentment, are Armenians, refugees dependent on 
Arab hospitality, has aroused dangerous passions among the Moslems. 

British consul Smart went on to add: 

The director of the Victoria hospital told me that he met a peasant 
acquaintance coming along the road with the usual pitiful accompani- 
ment of a mule piled up with the greatest variety of household goods. 
The doctor asked his acquaintance why he had left his village. The 
man replied that he had been compelled to depart because Armeni- 
ans were plundering his house . 56 

Mandate forces were criticized for fueling sectarian tensions and for wide- 
spread atrocities, but the policy of recruiting irregulars and using them for 
punitive missions is not difficult to understand. The colonial Civilizing Mis- 
sion was based on protecting “Oriental Christians” from their less civilized 
neighbors. The indigenous Christians and refugees were envisioned as worthy 
and convenient couriers for the project of advancing “European civilization.” 
But with a widespread nationalist rebellion that brought Muslims and at least 
some indigenous Christians together, French military officers turned to the 
refugee populations. The attraction of a monthly wage of seven gold pounds, 
the use of weapons, and the opportunity to brutalize others as they them- 
selves had been brutalized must have been a powerful prospect for hungry 
refugees in Syria. To blame the atrocities on the irregular troops, recruited 
from the most miserable and rootless Syrians, as foreign observers like Smart 
did, however, misses the point. The irregulars surely acted with the knowl- 
edge and approval of their French paymasters, who had been sworn to uphold 
the interests and the well-being of the entire mandatory population. 

In the short term these methods served only to increase resistance. De- 
spite Andrea’s optimism and the accolades of his superiors, the security cor- 
don severing the Maydan from the city was not immediately successful. Smart 


The Politics of Rebellion 

reported that rebels stole building materials and barbed wire with impunity 
to use on their own barricades inside the city. 57 The bands remained active 
through January and continued to increase in size. Vast groups of rebels con- 
trolled all access to Damascus. Their numbers increased daily. 

The Akash band continually disrupted communications to the north, 
south, and east from Damascus. On the night of n December they cut phone 
and rail lines between Damascus and Beirut. They were apparently joined 
by Shakib Wahab from the Shuf, Nasib Aryan from Ayha, and Muhammad 
Sharaf along with three others from Jabal Druze. Workers with a military 
escort repaired the tracks during the day, but the next night the rebels did a 
more thorough job. 

The following night the Akash band tore up lengthy sections of track 
even closer to Damascus, near Dummar. At eleven o’clock that night the ar- 
mored train derailed, and a freight train following it also derailed. “The band 
fired on the armored train from the surrounding peaks, injuring two train em- 
ployees, one seriously. Traffic will be interrupted for several days . .” 58 On the 
same night of 12-13 January a passenger train near Ayn al-Fija was trapped 
by the disruption of the rail line and came under rebel fire. Its military escort 
engaged the rebels and supposedly managed to prevent them from capturing 
the munitions carried in the train, but the first relief expedition sent disap- 
peared entirely and was reported probably captured. By 16 January the train 
had still not been relieved, but an armored train was expected to reach it that 
night. 59 It was unclear where the intelligence officer got his information, since 
the condition of the train was not reported until four days after it was at- 
tacked, and apparently it had been under siege and isolated by the insurgents 
since that time. The report stated with casual and almost surely inaccurate 
optimism that the passengers and the munitions were safe and untouched. 
The rail lines were finally reopened on the evening of 16 January, and no losses 
were reported on the trapped train. 

Within a week the insurgents were massing outside Damascus for a re- 
newed attack on the train lines, this time in even greater force. Reports from 
22 January indicate 600-700 armed insurgents in the region of Dummar un- 
der the command of Abd al-Qadir Sukkar, in cooperation with the Akash 
band. Meanwhile somewhere around 1,000 armed “Druze” and “bandits” in 
several groups were active in the other areas surrounding Damascus. 60 This 
pattern prevailed throughout January and into February. Rebel activity con- 
tinued in Wadi Barada, the Ghuta and Maydan, and north toward al-Nabk 
and in the Anti-Lebanon range. The insurgents controlled the initiative with 
impressive organization and coordination of tactics. They repeatedly targeted 

Debating Rebellion 


and destroyed the lines of transportation and communication from Damascus 
in ail directions. 61 Intelligence reports reveal a desperate military situation, 
despite their bloodless language and determined avoidance of casualty figures. 

The reports provide a clear negative imprint of the insurgent conscious- 
ness of the armed enemies of the mandate. They show that the rebels of the 
Damascus countryside were organized, coordinated, and focused on the stra- 
tegic goal of expelling the French from the mandated territory by destroying 
the structures and rhetorical claims of mandatory rule. The power of the in- 
surgents to disrupt every aspect of mandatory military rule seemed to awe 
French intelligence officers. British reports sketch clearly what the French re- 
ports only hint at: the rebels had the committed support of vast numbers of 
the Syrian population, both in the countryside and in the capital. People that 
the French identified as bandits and criminals were identified by their com- 
patriots as national heroes. 


Who led the Great Syrian Revolt of 1925-1926? How did people who took 
part see their role in history? Insurgent documents record major meetings on 
several occasions to discuss and decide the direction and the strategic priori- 
ties of the revolt. Early in December 1925 insurgent leaders met at the house 
of Abi ‘Abdu al-Saqbani, mukhtar of the Ghuta village of Saqba. 62 This was 
approximately the same time as the multiple attacks of early December. The 
meeting brought together many of those named in French intelligence re- 
ports as well as others rarely named as fighters. Nasib al-Bakri was there; and 
his private papers, preserved in the Syrian Archives, name him as president 
of the rebel council. 63 He was joined by Muhammad ‘Izz al-Din al-Halabi, 
All al-Atrash, and Zayd al-Amr (all Druze from the south), and Nazih al- 
Mu’ayyad al-Azm, ‘Abd al-Qadir Sukkar, Sa'id al-‘As, Zaki al-Halabi, Zaki 
al-Durubi, and the council secretary Fa’iq al- Asali (who were mostly from 
Damascus or Hamah). Half of these men were former Ottoman army offi- 
cers, and half were involved in the Hawran grain trade. 

Two main bands fighting in the Ghuta were represented at the confer- 
ence. According to Sa'id al-‘As, the “Druze” band had become the strong- 
est since he, ‘Ali al-Atrash, and Muhammad ‘Izz al-Din al-Halabi had come 
from the Jabal Druze, Nazih al-Mu’ayyad al-‘Azm had come from the Golan 
to join the band, and ‘Abd al-Qadir Sukkar had come from the Maydan. The 
other principal band was the al-Shaghur quarter band of Hasan al-Kharrat. 
Nasib al-Bakri had major influence over Kharrat’s band. Sa'id al-‘As wrote 


The Politics of Rebellion 

that, as the Druze band eclipsed the al-Shaghur force, Bakri sought to ex- 
tend his influence over it too. 64 There was clear tension between rebel leaders 
over responsibilities and leadership, and command structure was one of sev- 
eral matters under discussion, including operational regions and responsibili- 
ties, upcoming military operations, and, most notably, a debate and judgment 
against rebel leader Ramadan Shallash for “transgressing the objectives of the 
nationalist revolt.” 65 The accusations against Shallash seemed to stem from 
his activities in Duma (discussed earlier in this chapter). 

The debate over Ramadan Shallash was apparently fractious. It is not 
entirely clear what he was accused of or why. Details of the Saqba meeting 
and debate appear in the papers of Nasib al-Bakri and the books of Munir 
al-Rayyis and Sa'id al-As. Bakri was a member of Damascus’ landowning 
elite; Munir al-Rayyis was a journalist and activist who participated in and 
chronicled all the Arab revolts against colonial rule. And Sa'id al-As, like 
Shallash, was a former Ottoman officer of modest background. Secret intel- 
ligence documents and letters suggest that Shallash had become a kind of 
Robin Hood figure of the insurgency. He combined nascent patriotism and 
nationalism with a mix of social justice, popular religious fervor, and class 
warfare that was deeply appealing to rural villagers and deeply threatening to 
Syrian elites. The three extant accounts of his trial differ widely. In their varied 
emphases, they provide a shadowy rendering of the tensions and conflicts of 
the revolt and interwar Arab society more generally. Such tensions included 
the struggle between traditional urban elites and new elites of modest rural 
and often military background, conflicts over the militancy and radicalism 
of nationalist politics, and the acceptable degree of popular participation in 
politics and revolt. Nasib al-Bakri attacked Shallash for levying revolt taxes. 
French intelligence documents show that these levies fell on urban elites and 
big landlords, rather than on Syria’s peasants and small cultivators. Shallash 
and his call thus represented a threat to the material prerogatives of Syria’s 
traditional landowners. Munir al-Rayyis, the radical nationalist, defended 
Shallash and attacked Bakri family retainer Hasan al-Kharrat for vengeful- 
ness. Sa'id al-As attacked Bakri and defended Shallash as an effective military 
leader. The former military officers clearly objected to the procedure against 
Shallash, but ultimately they stood aside and allowed Bakri and Kharrat to 
determine his fate. 

Ramadan Shallash, bedouin chief and veteran of Hananu’s revolt and 
the battles of Ghuta and Damascus, was to be “expelled from the revolt and 
stripped of his office and insignia.” 66 A graduate of the Ottoman war college, 
Shallash had served in the Ottoman army in Libya in 1912 and the Arab army 

Debating Rebellion 


during the First World War and was a schoolmate and friend of Ali al-Atrash 
from the Ottoman school for sons of tribal chiefs . 67 Sa'id al-As claimed that 
Ramadan requested a meeting with Nasib al-Bakrf and ‘Ali al-Atrash, and 
Nasib used the opportunity to eliminate him from competition for leadership. 
Munir al-Rayyis, who was also at Saqba but arrived after the trial, claimed 
that Hasan al-Kharrat called the meeting expressly to seek revenge against 
Shallash and that their personal animosity was well known. Kharrat accused 
Shallash of “impositions and ransoms and financial collections in the name 
of the revolt .” 68 

Sa'id al- As, however, claimed that Nasib al-Bakri accused Shallash of de- 
manding one thousand ginayh (Ottoman pounds) in gold from the people of 
Duma; and Shaykh Hijaz, the co-leader of Kharrat ’s band, accused him of 
molesting a woman in the village of Hamura. Al- As reported that he him- 
self argued forcefully that the accusations were baseless and that they should 
refer the judgment to Sultan al-Atrash, the commander in chief of the re- 
volt. In his memoir Sa'id al- As cursed Bakri and charged him with harboring 
“secret hatreds and ambitions .” 69 He condemned Kharrat only by implica- 
tion. Rayyis, by contrast, condemned Kharrat and had harsh words for Bakri 
and al- As merely because they did not restrain Kharrat and prevent the in- 
justice to Shallash. 

When I heard what had happened to Ramadan Shallash, I admon- 
ished Sa'id al- As for keeping silent about the ridiculous trial. Kharrat 
did it only for revenge, and I wondered how he managed it in the pres- 
ence of al- As and Muhammad ‘Izz al-Din and Nasib al-Bakri and the 
others who had to approve the unjust procedures, which were neither 
logical nor legal. Al- As explained that they had only agreed to sum- 
mon Shallash in order to investigate the accusations against him . 70 

Sa'id al-As blamed Nasib al-Bakri for the injustice against Ramadan 
Shallash. He implied that Hasan al-Kharrat, whom French troops killed two 
weeks later in an ambush in the Ghuta, was simply a tool of Bakri’s am- 
bition . 71 Perhaps, writing soon after the death of Kharrat, al-As sought to 
avoid harsh criticism of a martyred hero of the revolt . 72 Still, quite apart from 
sparing Kharrat from condemnation, Sa'id al-As identified Nasib al-Bakri 
as the undisputed power behind Kharrat and his band, and al-As contested 
Bakri’s leadership at every turn. Almost alone among the revolt leadership, 
Bakri hailed from an important landowning family and had received an elite, 
nonmilitary education. He had been involved in traditional politics and, un- 


The Politics of Rebellion 

like almost any of the others who took part in the revolt, was a part of Da- 
mascus’ traditional landowning upper class. Bakri has sometimes been por- 
trayed as the preeminent leader of the revolt in the countryside of Damascus, 
but his traditional political and military leadership was clearly not without 
challenge . 73 Sa'id al-As accused Bakri of cozying up to ‘Ali al-Atrash in an 
attempt to gain access to the Druze leadership and become “general leader, 
unhindered dictator, or (hakim bi-amrihi) of the revolt .” 74 

Nasib al-Bakri preserved a different version of events in his private papers. 
The judgment contained in his papers claimed that Shallash was guilty of ex- 
tracting heavy fines for his own pocket from the villages of Madi'a, al-Qasa, 
and Hirran al- Awamid in the eastern Ghuta. The report stated that the vil- 
lagers had accused Ramadan and that he had admitted his misdeeds before 
the revolt’s official tribunal. Accordingly, Shallash would be expelled from 
the ranks of the rebels. But his life would be spared and his freedom would 
be unhindered. The otherwise unspecified judgment was to be carried out by 
Hasan al-Kharrat . 75 

No one had claimed Shallash was not an effective guerrilla leader. Intel- 
ligence documents suggest that his confusing mix of Islam, tribal honor, 
revenge against French Christians, nationalism, and class warfare was enor- 
mously popular in Syrian villages and neighborhoods. Shallash promised 
villagers that he represented a movement like that of Turkish nationalist Mu- 
stafa Kemal, that he would wage jihad, to restore the honor of the Arab na- 
tion, and that he fought for the greater glory of Islam. Further, he threatened 
the big pro-French landlords who dominated much of the countryside more 
effectively and more directly than did others among the revolt leadership. 

Shallash and his methods provoked disapproval from some among his 
comrades. Yet it is surely notable that his staunchest critic and prosecutor, 
Nasib al-Bakri, hailed from a major landowning family. His defenders were 
former military officers of modest background. Among other things, Shal- 
lash was accused of stealing money from the people of Duma; but his letters, 
collected by mandate intelligence, show that he did not seek one thousand 
pounds from the inhabitants of Duma, as he was accused of doing, but two 
thousand pounds from the biggest landlord of the town, who was also an im- 
portant pro-French politician and supporter of the mandate government . 76 

After the conclusion of the first night’s meeting and the judgment against 
Ramadan Shallash, they argued over the direction of the revolt. Al-As re- 
ported that he urged Bakri to relinquish offices he was unable to fulfill. As a 
politician, his talents as a military leader were limited, and he always sought 
to rule by decree. He could not hope to supplant Muhammad ‘Izz al-Din al- 

Debating Rebellion 


Halabi, who, as a former officer, understood military matters and was a son 
of the tribe (Druze) and comrade of ‘All. They also debated an upcoming at- 
tack on the Circassian village of Murj al-Sultan. Sa'id al-‘As argued against 
'Abd al-Qadir Sukkar, who fervently wanted to teach the “treacherous col- 
laborators” a lesson. Sa'id al-‘As reported that he argued against attacking a 
Circassian village because they would be playing into the hands of the French, 
who sought to exacerbate ethnic and sectarian divisions by utilizing Circas- 
sian and Armenian troops against the rebels . 77 

Both Sa'id al-‘As and Munir al-Rayyis reserved their most damning con- 
demnation for the sentence against Shallash. He had barely arrived the fol- 
lowing day when Hasan al-Kharrat and his band arrested him and removed 
his weapons, horse, and money. They placed him under guard and proceeded 
to divide the spoils. Al-‘As claimed that this was all done while he himself 
was absent and in contradiction to what they had agreed upon. He later pro- 
tested that they had to return Shallash’s belongings, but they were unwilling 
to reconsider, apart from leaving him his horse. Shortly afterward the French 
bombed the area from the air, and the rebels fled. Sa'id al-‘As released Shal- 
lash, who mounted his horse and rode off alone. Shaykh Muhammad al-Hijaz 
had taken his sword, and Hasan al-Kharrat had taken his firearms. They di- 
vided his supposedly plundered gold among themselves . 78 

Munir al-Rayyis reported events differently. In his account, Kharrat ’s men 
seized Shallash on his orders and transported him to Saqba. When they ar- 
rived, Kharrat gave orders to search his belongings. He took Shallash’s docu- 
ments and began reading them aloud. They found nine pounds of gold, which 
al-Rayyis claimed Shallash had borrowed while he and Nasib al-Bakrf were 
guests of a Maydani notable. Kharrat seized his sword and dagger and tore 
from Shallash’s jacket the medal given by Sharif al-Husayn, naming him 
“Basha.” Kharrat put the medal on his own chest and proclaimed, “I deserve 
this more than you.” Al-Rayyis added that Kharrat appointed himself prose- 
cutor and judge and that the others could not stop him, because everyone 
wanted to avoid trouble between the rebels. As mentioned by al-‘As, soon 
afterward a French air raid on the village allowed Shallash to escape . 79 

The conference concluded with a list of resolutions recorded by Sa'id al- 
‘As. The first resolution stipulated that al-'As retained general leadership in 
battle. The second resolution summarized the order of communal battle lead- 
ership with respect to all decisions and listed Sa'id al-‘As, Nazih al-Mu’ayyad 
al-‘Azm, ‘Ali al-Atrash, Muhammad ‘Izz al-Din al-Halabi, and Abu 'Abdu 
('Abd al-Qadir) Sukkar. The leaders supposedly allied with Nasib al-Bakrf 
appear nowhere on the list. The resolution stressed an end to personalized 


The Politics of Rebellion 

leadership decisions. Sa'id al-As wrote that before Saqba they were each in- 
dependent and sought to command alone; after Saqba they sought to com- 
mand by communal decision and to coordinate their actions. He lamented 
that the affair of Ramadan Shallash showed the system did not work. They 
could attain unity on the battlefield; but unity in politics was far more diffi- 
cult, and all their achievements could be squandered by personal rivalries. 80 

The Syrian revolt continued for eighteen months after these events. 
French intelligence reports recorded continual escalation of rebel pressure 
through winter and into the spring of 1926. Immediately after the meeting 
at Saqba, the “Druze” band led by Muhammad ‘Izz al-Din al-Halabi moved 
toward Jabal Druze, though they returned to fight in the Ghuta later. Hasan 
al-Kharrat was killed on 25 December 1925, but his band continued to fight. 
And Ramadan Shallash, in a move that surely vindicated his enemies, sur- 
rendered to French authorities and collaborated with them. He tried to con- 
vince some of his few remaining comrades to join him in fomenting revolt 
near Dayr al-Zur with the help of his tribesmen. Agitation had increased in 
Aleppo and the northern regions, and Shallash proposed joining veteran guer- 
rilla leader Ibrahim Hananu, to spark revolt in the north. He and a few others 
left the region of al-Nabk, where they had been recruiting new fighters along 
with Sa'id al-As, Khalid al-Nafawri, Munir al-Rayyis, and Jum'a Sawsaq, 
and headed toward Dayr al-Zur. This was in mid-January, and the mountains 
were thick with snow. At al-Salimiyya, east of Hamah, Shallash announced 
his intention to surrender to the French and sought mediation through a local 
notable. Two of his party remained with him, and two left. Rayyis wrote that 
Shallash kept the machine gun, and one of his party stole a rifle that belonged 
to one of the men who chose not to surrender. The two men who did not sur- 
render, Jamil al- Alawani and Ibrahim Sudqi, turned up later (exhausted and 
starving, with one horse and one rifle between them) to rejoin their comrades 
in the region of al-Nabk. 81 

The French counteroffensive finally came in the spring and summer of 
1926. It drove the insurgents into Hawran and the volcanic refuge of the Laj a 3 a 
and by 1927 across the border into Transjordan and the new Saudi Kingdom. 
Ramadan Shallash, meanwhile, accepted a subsidy from the French govern- 
ment and French government scholarships for his sons. 82 He soon authored a 
letter to his former comrades urging them to surrender. Shallash defended his 
courage and his record as a fighter and maintained that his cooperation did 
not make him a collaborator or a traitor. He urged the insurgents to surrender 
to the new high commissioner, Henry de Jouvenel, claiming that he was fair 

figure 8. Ramadan Shallash surrendering to Henry de Jouvenel. Courtesy Archives 
du Ministere des Affaires Etrangeres — Paris. Copyright Coll. Aujol. 

and just and would accept the national demands without further violence. 83 
This appeal had few takers. It must have been difficult for his former com- 
rades to defend Shallash and criticize his attackers still among them, while 
they continued to fight and later went into exile as he returned to Dayr al- 
Zur on a French subsidy. 

Shallash’s prosecutor, Nasib al-Bakri, also came out comparatively well 
from the revolt. Like many of the other leaders, he was forced into exile, but 
he was pardoned after less than a year, in March 1928. His family’s estates, 
which the mandate authorities had bombed and confiscated, were also re- 
turned. 84 Hundreds of other insurgents such as Sultan al-Atrash, Muhammad 
‘Izz al-Din al-Halabi, Nazih al-Mu 5 ayyad al-Azm, Fawzi al-Qawuqji, and 
Sa'id al-Haydar spent ten years in exile under sentence of death. 85 Sa'id al- 
‘As was killed fighting in Palestine in 1936 and never returned home. Most 
ordinary rebels simply returned to rebuild their ruined farms and villages. It is 
an enduring tribute to these ordinary rebels of the countryside of Damascus 
that— despite the bitter factional battles between their leaders and the brutal 
methods of the French forces— they fought and often defeated the mandate 
army day after day for more than a year. Fawzi al-Qawuqji, who resolutely re- 


The Politics of Rebellion 

fused to identify by name the rebel leaders he damned for their harm to the 
struggle, wrote: 

Events confirmed what I perceived and felt: the best among them 
were the ordinary class of people [tabaqa al-shab al-sadhaja ] All our 
calamities and defeats were due to the ambitions and rivalries of our 
leaders, who were concerned only with showing off and with their love 
of display. I saw that the true revolt against the imperialists should be 
based only on the ordinary and honest classes of the people . 86 


Epilogue and Conclusions 


T he Great Syrian Revolt began with dramatic rebel victories, but it 
ended with the slow and inexorable reassertion of government con- 
trol over the devastated countryside, district by district and village by 
village. Most of the hundreds of insurgents named and sentenced in absen- 
tia by government courts fled into exile. The truly anonymous rebel masses 
melted back into their ruined villages and urban quarters. With the excep- 
tion of Nasib al-Bakri, none of the Damascene rebel leadership was allowed 
back into mandate Syria for years. Most of the traditional ruling classes of 
Damascus had never supported the revolt; and with the effective elimination 
of the revolt’s militant leadership, the traditional elites were free to hammer 
out a working accommodation with the clear and now unchallenged rulers of 
Syria: the French government. Politics reverted to a new variation of an old 
pattern as Damascus’ leading notable families supplied moderate nationalist 
politicians to rule under the auspices of, and in cooperation with, the im- 
perial power. The revolt proved to the mandate power that it needed Syria’s 
urban elites. Damascus’ leading politicians and the mandate power were able 
to ignore the exiled insurgents and their uncompromising visions for more 
than a decade. 1 Militant popular resistance was dead. 

In 1928 the National Bloc (al-Kutla al-Wataniyya) emerged as the lead- 
ing political formation in mandate Syria. It stood in sharp contrast to the re- 
volt and to the previous confrontational character of politics under the man- 
date. With the National Bloc was born the policy of “honorable cooperation,” 
dissected so thoroughly by Philip Khoury. The mandate power finally had a 
group of Syrian elites with whom accommodation was possible. Unlike the 
leadership of the revolt and the diverse mass mobilization during the uprising, 
the ranks of the bloc were resolutely elitist and uniform. Its members were big 
urban landowners and the recipients of privileged civil education. Unlike the 
insurgent leadership, the National Bloc did not draw its members from the 
countryside or the military. With few exceptions, Damascene notable poli- 
ticians who figured prominently in the bloc and interwar nationalist politics 


Epilogue and Conclusions 

had played no role in the revolt of 1925. In class origin, educational back- 
ground, occupation, and ideological pragmatism, the National Bloc leader- 
ship was distinct from the insurgent leadership. A comparison between the 
most frequently mentioned insurgent leaders and the bloc leaders indicates 
that they were virtually mutually exclusive. The one exception is Nasib al- 
Bakri. Among the rebels, he was also one of the very few graduates of the elite 
Damascus Academy, Maktab ‘Anbar, long considered a nursery for national- 
ist political leaders. 2 

The distinction between Ottoman civil education and military education 
is important and generally unacknowledged. While Maktab Anbar was the 
civil secondary school, there was also a military secondary school in Damas- 
cus. One provided students for the Miilkiye in Istanbul, the other for the 
Harbiye. Military education was fully subsidized by the government and was 
widely seen as a path for upward mobility among those of modest means. 
Civil education was generally not subsidized and was a path to higher gov- 
ernment position for sons of families that were already prominent. The ma- 
jority of National Bloc leadership had attended Maktab Anbar and more 
advanced Ottoman or foreign institutions of civil education. While the bloc 
leadership and the insurgent leadership were of the same generation, all born 
around the year 1890, their experiences were by no means comparable. The 
crushing of the rebellion and the exile of its leaders allowed the leaders of 
the bloc to emerge into prominence. The mandate power knowingly exacer- 
bated the postrevolt class and factional split by selectively pardoning promi- 
nent exiles who could pass seamlessly into the ranks of the National Bloc. 
When the French authorities pardoned first Nasib al-Bakri and later Shukri 
al-Quwwatli and Jamil Mardam Bek, they strengthened the National Bloc’s 
claims to lead and further fragmented the rebel opposition to the mandate. 

The exiled insurgents, however, did not willingly fade into irrelevance. 
Despite massive French offensives in the Ghuta and Hawran in the spring 
of 1926, Muhammad ‘Izz al-Din al-Halabi and Sultan al-Atrash continued 
to lead raids on French positions until the early summer of 1927. 3 Fawzi al- 
Qawuqji and Sa'id al- As also remained active in the region north of Damas- 
cus until mid-1927. During 1926 and 1927 Druze rebels moved to the refugee 
camp at al-Azraq in northern Transjordan. Many had sent their families there 
during the revolt; but in the summer of 1927 British mandatory forces expelled 
the rebels, including Sultan al-Atrash and his family, to Wadi al-Sirhan in the 
new Arabian Sultanate of Abd al-Aziz al-Sa‘ud (Ibn Sa'ud). 4 Others went 
to Haifa, Jaffa, and Jerusalem in Palestine, while still others went to Cairo. 
Military officers like Fawzi al-Qawuqji and Sa'id al- As worked their way to 



Baghdad, where they offered their services to the government of King Faysal 
and helped organize and train his army. 

In Jerusalem rebel supporters started a new newspaper to advance the 
viewpoints of the exiled insurgents. The first issues of the new paper, called 
Jami‘at al-‘arabiyya (The Arab Federation), appeared in January 1927 under 
the editorial direction of Munif al-Hayani. The paper was intended to reach 
a readership inside mandatory Syria and to maintain the centrality of the 
rebel leadership’s claims to speak for Syria. 5 Its outlook was both Druze and 
nationalist, and it had detailed coverage of the increasingly desperate battles 
of Hawran and the volcanic badland refuge of al-Laja’a, where the rebels 
made their final stand. 

Despite its Hawran Druze focus, Jami c at al- ‘arabiyya also had reports filed 
by Fawzi al-Qawuqji and Sa'id al-As from the region surrounding Damas- 
cus. And while it was primarily concerned with the coverage of what it called 
the nationalist struggle against imperialism, tyranny, and the atrocities of the 
colonial government in Syria, it covered other news as well. Its sixth issue, 
for example, contained an article about American intervention in Nicaragua, 
pointing out that Calvin Coolidge’s American Republic, considered a para- 
gon of anti-imperialist Great Power virtue by some, was also guilty of im- 
perialist crimes. 6 

Jami‘at al- ‘ arabiyya illustrates the final months of the uprising vividly and 
poignantly. The mostly anonymous writers of the paper protested desperately 
that the fight must continue and criticized such things as an article in the 
Cairo daily al-Ahram of 31 May 1927, claiming the revolt was finished. Two 
weeks later, on 23 June i()2j,Jdmi‘at al-‘arabiyya published a list of goals and 
demands under the headline “Future of Syria.” By this time everyone knew 
that the future of Syria would be dictated by France; but the newspaper, and 
the rebels it represented, had no choice but to persist with now quixotic goals. 
The demands reflected the dwindling fortunes of the uprising and did not 
include a call for the evacuation of France from its mandates. They did call, 
however, for France’s recognition of Syria’s independence and France’s sup- 
port for Syria’s entry into the League of Nations at the same time as Iraq, 
which had recently been agreed to by treaty as 1932. They further demanded 
Syrian unity, with the Druze region’s incorporation into the state based on 
the “American pattern,” by which the authors presumably meant some kind 
of federalism. The demands included unrestricted amnesty, although with 
negotiable exceptions. The final demand was open talks between Syria and 
Lebanon, with further union or incorporation to be decided by the respective 
populations and subject to vote. 


Epilogue and Conclusions 

These demands were modest by comparison with the fiery objectives of 
eighteen months earlier. At about the same time a number of former insur- 
gents expressed the somewhat forlorn wish that all they wanted was an ar- 
rangement like that which Iraq had with Britain — a major rhetorical retreat 
from the vague but trenchant proclamations of the triumphant months of 
1925. Still, exiled nationalists of the Syrian-Palestinian Congress, based in 
Cairo, had repeatedly put forward variations on these proposals since Decem- 
ber 1925. The Mount Lebanon Druze aristocrat and international activist 
Amir Shakib Arslan had met with General Sarrail’s successor, Henry de 
Jouvenel, in Paris in December 1925 to advance similar demands. 7 The in- 
surgent leadership, particularly Sultan al-Atrash and Shahbandar, had been 
outraged by Amir Shakib’s claim to speak for the rebellion and by the mod- 
erate proposals he advanced without their approval or consultation. There is 
no doubt that Shakib Arslan— in his wish to occupy a central place in the 
revolt, albeit from the safety of Geneva— harmed the possibility for fruit- 
ful negotiations. Further negotiations took place between members of the 
Syrian-Palestinian Congress and Jouvenel in Cairo in the next month, re- 
verting to an uncompromising position on the evacuation of French troops. 
When the insurgents themselves advanced demands eighteen months later 
in line with Arslan’s original position (from a position infinitely weaker than 
that of December 1925), de Jouvenel’s successor, Henri Ponsot, ignored them 
completely. He issued his first public proclamation a month later in July 1927. 
After ten months of silence, Ponsot ’s first public statement began with the 
words “France will not renounce its mandate.” 8 

Meanwhile Ponsot had negotiated with the British to force the insur- 
gent refugees as far from mandate Syria as possible. A series of articles in 
Jami‘at al-‘arabiyya chronicled the progress of Franco-British negotiations 
on forcibly expelling the exiles and their families from al-Azraq. Finally, 
on 27 June 1927, the paper published a telegram from Sultan al-Atrash to 
the Offices of the New Syria Party of Detroit, Michigan, explaining that 
“the military powers have decided to evict all the families from al-Azraq 
and expel them from East Jordan [Transjordan].” The insurgents briefly re- 
turned over the border to Syria, where they engaged mandate forces again. 
The situation in Hawran was impossible, however, and members of the exiled 
Syrian-Palestinian Congress, foremost probably Shukri al-Quwwatli, negoti- 
ated with Ibn Sa'ud to allow the rebels refuge in his new desert sultanate. Ibn 
Sa'ud had first become the sultan of Najd and then the king of Hijaz, usurp- 
ing Sharif al-Husayn’s title and territory. Sultan al-Atrash and the mostly 
Druze rebels with him moved their families to the desert oasis of Wadi al- 



Sirhan, about 150 kilometers southeast of Amman, just across the new bor- 
der near the village of al-Haditha. They would stay there until 1937, living in 
tents and surviving on handouts distributed by the Syrian-Palestinian Con- 
gress from donors in Syria and Lebanon and contributions from Arab immi- 
grants in North and South America. 9 

Remote exile removed the insurgents from any role in mandate Syria’s 
political life. Not only did the mandate power and Syria’s newly ascendant 
nationalist elites ignore the former rebels, but the exiled nationalists of the 
Syrian-Palestinian Congress ignored them too. In the annual celebration of 
Syria’s Independence and Martyrs Day on 8 March 1928 in Cairo, the con- 
gress commemorated the nation’s martyrs in a public ceremony and in a pub- 
lished pamphlet but failed to include any living revolt fighters in the celebra- 
tions. The pamphlet included a list of prominent martyrs from the Great War, 
Maysalun, and the Syrian Revolt; but with the exception of Tawfiq Hulu al- 
Haydar and Dr. Khalid al-Khatib, who had both spent most of the revolt in 
Palestine and Egypt, there were no insurgents present. 10 

The following year the exiled insurgents organized their own conference. 
In September 1929 Sultan al-Atrash and other refugees of Wadi al-Sirhan 
sent a large number of invitations to journalists, nationalists, and former in- 
surgents in Syria and abroad. They sent the notice to newspapers in Syria, 
Egypt, and elsewhere and expected the meeting to be well attended and ap- 
parently inclusive. 

To Our Syrian Brothers: 

On 25 September , the insurgents of the desert held a meeting to study the 
present situation of the country. We have unanimously decided to request the 
publication of a general appeal to all Syrian parties to announce a great national 
assembly for the examination of the situation, and in preparation for important 
political changes in the country. In conformance with the desire of the insurgents, 
and in view of the realization of the wishes of the nation, we make this general 
appeal to all political parties and national groups that are intent on the victory of 
our cause. We ask that they attend the assembly, which will take place on 25 Octo- 
ber 1929 at Wadi al-Sirhan. We are certain that the nation will not hesitate to 
respond to our invitation and to the important results this meeting will have for 
the advancement of our cause. 

Wadi al-Sirhan, al-Haditha 
Commander in Chief of the 
Syrian Revolt 
Sultan al-Atrash 11 


Epilogue and Conclusions 

The reception in Damascus was disappointing. The two most prominent 
nationalist newspapers of the capital in the years after the revolt, al-Sha ‘b and 
al-Qabas, both refused to publish the notice on the spurious but unchallenge- 
able grounds that their editors doubted its authenticity French intelligence 
reported definitively that the invitation was genuine and in the same report 
documented the Damascene reaction in nationalist circles. Prominent nation- 
alist politicians also publicly disparaged the authenticity of the notice; Riyad 
al-Sulh, Beirut National Bloc delegate and future Lebanese prime minister, 
said that though he had received a personal appeal from Sultan al-Atrash 
he doubted the legitimate interests of the meeting and advised against the 
participation of the National Bloc. 12 He need not have worried. By 1929 the 
mandate government’s heavy-handed censorship was no longer necessary, and 
Syria’s nationalist elites had resolved to deal with the national movement’s 
more unruly elements themselves. Ultimately they were able to silence dis- 
sent far more effectively than the mandate power had done alone. 

The conference went on without representatives of the National Bloc and 
without representation or even acknowledgment by most of Syria’s interwar 
elite. Its participants were predictable. Sultan al-Atrash organized and led the 
meeting; and a number of other former insurgents attended, many as repre- 
sentatives of some group or organization hastily formed to lend official weight 
to the proceedings. Dr. Khalid al-Khatib of the Syrian-Palestinian Con- 
gress sat as secretary and kept the minutes. ‘Adil al- Azma, brother of Nabih 
al-Azma and like his brother a former Ottoman army officer, also repre- 
sented the Syrian-Palestinian Congress. ‘Uthman al-Sharabati, the Dama- 
scene merchant at whose house a number of secret People’s Party meetings 
had taken place prior to the arrests of August 1925, also attended as a delegate 
of the congress. Sa'id al- As was officially the delegate for a group called the 
National Charter (al-Mithaq al-Watani). Abd al-Qadir Sukkar, the May- 
dani grain merchant and rebel band leader, represented the insurgents of 
the Ghuta. Muhammad al-Ashmar, popular religious shaykh of the Maydan 
quarter, merchant, and rebel leader, represented the Damascus Council of 
Merchants. ‘Uqla al-Qutami, Greek Orthodox shaykh of the Jabal Hawran 
village of al-Kharba, rebel leader, and lifelong friend of Sultan al-Atrash, 
was listed, along with several others, “among the insurgents of the desert.” 13 
Dr. Shahbandar helped organize and publicize the meeting from his base in 
Cairo, but he did not attend. In a letter intercepted by French intelligence 
a few days later, he declared his satisfaction with the conference’s work and 
with his friend ‘Uthman al-Sharabati’s organizational efforts. He noted that 
the “insolent ones,” by which the intelligence officer filing the report opined 



he meant members of the Istiqlal Party, had wanted to exploit the conference 
for their benefit. He further noted that Adil al- Azma had communicated de- 
tails of the proceedings to the editors of al-Ahram, who would publish them. 
In contrast to the newspapers in Syria, al-Ahram published a very brief notice 
of the conference. It was clearly of little importance to the editors, however, 
and they buried it halfway down the fifth page . 14 

Sultan al-Atrash opened the meeting with a brief but forceful speech. He 
outlined the postrevolt situation in Syria and refrained from dwelling on the 
past or pointing out the prominent nationalists or members of the nascent 
National Bloc who were conspicuous by their absence. He noted that Robert 
de Caix’s declarations before the League of Nations explicitly enforced injus- 
tices against the Syrian people and strongly contradicted their rights and aspi- 
rations. He mentioned favorably that the new Labour government in Britain 
had acquiesced to the demands of Egypt and Iraq. His pro-British enthusi- 
asm, perennially distressing to the French and perennially annoying to nation- 
alist rivals, was apparently undiminished. He concluded with references to 
“foreign influences” and “factional rancor,” which, he implied, diminished 
the efforts of some patriots but would not damage the present efforts. Their 
actions would serve as an “example for all national struggles .” 15 

Tenaciously preserving the fiction of their relevance, the delegates dis- 
cussed and agreed upon a series of resolutions. The published resolutions cen- 
tered on a joint condemnation of both British and French mandatory poli- 
cies in Syria and Palestine. They contrasted France’s fine words as a beacon of 
liberty and civilization with its colonial policy in Algeria and Syria. They ex- 
pressed the hope that Britain’s new government would “exchange its old im- 
perialist methods” and put its lofty talk into effect not only in Egypt and Iraq 
but especially in Palestine by revoking the Balfour Declaration. The confer- 
ence condemned the decision of the World Zionist Congress at Zurich and 
acts of aggression committed by Jews against Arabs. 

British intelligence reports of the conference listed some unpublished pro- 
posals in addition to the published resolutions. The unpublicized proposals 
had a distinct pan-Syrian character and included the institution of a general 
Arab committee to coordinate all political action in Palestine, Transjordan, 
and Syria under mandate, an effort to disseminate propaganda against the 
Balfour Declaration in Europe and America, and the total boycott of asso- 
ciation with Jews in Palestine. They further proposed addressing petitions to 
the League of Nations demanding the unification of Palestine, Transjordan, 
and Syria under one— preferably British— mandate and the establishment of 
a Palestinian parliament of all citizens without regard to religion. Finally, 


Epilogue and Conclusions 

figure 9. Desert conference, Wadi al-Sirhan, October 1929. Sultan al-Atrash is 
seated at the center. To his left are Muhammad al-Ashmar and Abd al-Qadir Sukkar. 
To his right are an unidentified man and Sa‘id al- As. Courtesy Markaz al-Watha’iq 

they proposed the division of Palestine into zones in which the Arab inhabi- 
tants would be organized militarily under the command of centrally desig- 
nated leaders. French intelligence was evidently dismayed by the claim of sup- 
port for an expanded mandate under British control. The French intelligence 
officer compiling the report offered three hypotheses to explain this. Fie first 
suggested inaccurate reporting, followed by “Anglo fantasy,” and finally re- 
sidual pro-British enthusiasm on the part of some Hawran Druze . 16 And yet 
the idea of free and undivided Greater Syria lived on. 

The published resolutions were more general and intended to be less con- 
troversial. The insurgents “reaffirmed their solemn pledge to fight for free 
Syria and to advance their legitimate demands.” They “proclaimed to the 
whole world that all Syrians, from the different nationalist parties and po- 
litical organizations, were united as one before this sacred pledge.” They as- 
serted their right to speak for all Syrians; while many ordinary Syrians may 
have agreed that the rebels had led the nation in resistance, no one — not Syria 
and certainly not the “whole world”— was able to hear their voices. Despite 
tireless efforts to disseminate their nationalist vision and their claims to lead, 



the conference and the resolutions it produced ended up as silent testimony 
among the innumerable files in the British and French mandate intelligence 
services’ archives . 17 


The Great Syrian Revolt was the first episode in a contest that has defined 
much of modern Syrian history. Hanna Batatu, Patrick Seale, and many 
others have noted that the postindependence history of Syria and other Arab 
countries has been characterized by a struggle between old landed elites who 
took part in colonial rule and new classes of more modest origin. Men like 
Jamal Abd al-Nasir, Abd al- Karim Qasim, Hafiz al-Asad, and even Mu- 
stafa Kemal Atatiirk emerged from the countryside or the provinces, bene- 
fited from state-subsidized military education, and ultimately transformed 
the power structures of their countries. They displaced old urban notable 
classes and the dominant families who had enjoyed political prominence since 
Ottoman times. The Syrian revolt demonstrates that this process of transfor- 
mation began much earlier than has been argued before and that the structural 
conditions that led to the transformation lay not only in the changes of the 
mandate but in the social and economic changes of the last Ottoman decades 
and the experience of the First World War. Expansion of rural commerce in 
agriculture and the expansion of Ottoman education to include young men of 
comparatively modest provincial background brought social changes in the 
Ottoman successor states that are still unfolding. 

The revolt was a popular political movement inspired in part by evolv- 
ing and variable notions of national community. Its tactics of armed revolt 
were radical and constituted a decisive subaltern break with the traditional 
elite politics of Damascus. The revolt drew its leaders from the ranks of rural 
shaykhs, demobilized military officers, and village and quarter leaders and not 
from the great landowning notable families who sought before and especially 
after the uprising to become national leaders in a negotiated process with the 

Wide popular participation in the revolt rested on two specific structural 
elements: relationships forged in the Hawran grain trade and the prevalence 
of men in their mid- to late thirties who had shared subsidized Ottoman 
military education and the experience of the Great War. Druze migrants had 
settled the southern countryside in large numbers during the middle and late 
nineteenth century. They expelled or subjugated the local bedouin and came 
to dominate agriculture in both Jabal Hawran and the surrounding plain. 


Epilogue and Conclusions 

With the aid of a rising class of merchant families from the Maydan quar- 
ter of Damascus, they developed the wide cultivation and export of Hawrani 
grain. The relationships between Hawran villages and Maydani merchants 
began with long-term business contracts and evolved into social and political 
ties between the two regions. Just as the merchants were rarely from the great 
landowning families of Damascus, who usually had vast holdings in other 
parts of Syria, the village leaders were not great landlords or estate holders. 
These trade networks and relationships were precisely the conduits of trans- 
mission for rebellion and nationalist agitation. 

The 1925 revolt began in the Druze grain-producing regions and soon 
shifted to the Maydan quarter of Damascus. Many of the revolt’s leaders 
came from the Hawran or from the Maydan and were connected by busi- 
ness or family to the grain trade. They were more militant in tactics and 
aims than the nationalist elite of Damascene notables, some of whom joined 
the uprising in order to escape imprisonment and to preserve their politi- 
cal credibility. Mandate authorities failed to comprehend the significance 
of these relationships and the interdependence and connections among re- 
gions, classes, and sectarian groups in Syria. They sought to govern man- 
date Syria along a series of ageless and essential divisions of sect, region, and 
class. This governing strategy was based on orientalist assumptions about reli- 
gion, town, and countryside that informed the colonial imagination in North 
Africa, Egypt, and India, to name but a few places. These assumptions, quite 
apart from the self- justification at their core, contradicted historical processes 
that had increased connections between Syrians in the years before the man- 
date. Commercial and social relations that colonial functionaries— and many 
scholars since— believed separated rural people from one another and from 
urban populations actually served to bring them together. But commerce was 
not the only bond between the insurgents of 1925. 

Ottoman secondary education had recently forged links between people of 
diverse class, regional, and sectarian origins. While there was an elite, tuition- 
based civil preparatory school in Damascus, readying students for high gov- 
ernment civil employment, there was also a fully subsidized military second- 
ary school. The Damascus Ottoman military secondary school has never been 
a subject of historical study; but its influence was wide, and it was once well 
known in Greater Syria. A large proportion of the Great Syrian Revolt’s lead- 
ers received their schooling there. 

When young men of modest background came from the countryside, it 
was usually the military school they entered, not the civil school (known lo- 
cally as Maktab ‘Anbar). When they went on to further study, it was at the 



Ottoman Imperial Military Academy, not the Ottoman Civil Service Acad- 
emy or foreign universities. Over forty years ago Patrick Seale observed that 
the ascendance of rural military officers in Syria’s postcolonial government 
was in part a result of the distaste of Damascus’ ruling classes for the army 
He wrote of the 1940s, but the pattern was established much earlier. When 
Damascus’ landed elite sent their sons for higher education, the young men 
came back as lawyers, engineers, and scholars. When rural shaykhs, village 
leaders, and middling urban merchants sent their sons for higher education, 
they came back as graduates of the only schools their families could afford: 
state-subsidized military academies. 

The revolt of 1925 owed much of its national character to the bonds among 
such former officers. There is no way to know what experiences they shared 
in Istanbul and on the battlefields of the Great War, because as exemplars of 
an emerging Syrian Arab nationalism they rarely wrote about their Ottoman 
experiences. Whether the Ottoman project of education and assimilation had 
served to bind these young men to the Ottoman state or to nascent ideas of 
Syrian nationalism or to both, at different times, there is no question that the 
experience served to bind them to one another and, in time, to ideas of an 
independent Syrian state that could be. 

They were soldiers rather than theorists, and their chronicles and their 
actions display frustration with and trenchant criticism of the civilian nation- 
alist elite of Damascus. They identified themselves as nationalists and patri- 
ots, but their nationalism was practical and unsystematic; they focused on 
expelling the French from Syria and sometimes mixed in popular Islamic reli- 
gion, anti-Christian agitation, and even class warfare against urban landlords 
and notables. Men such as these, of modest background and representing an 
emerging social class fostered by military education, were able to communi- 
cate with and organize the resistance of ordinary urban and rural Syrians far 
better than the self-appointed nationalist elite of intellectuals and western- 
educated politicians. They shared a fragmentary ideology based on the geo- 
graphical entity of independent Greater Syria and on shifting elements of re- 
gionalism, religion, and popular and rural Arab culture. 

When former officers, shaykhs, and local leaders rode into a village or 
urban quarter to announce the coming of the revolt against the mandate 
power, much of the populace responded. In this book I have represented 
some of the possible range of this call and its popular response. I have argued 
that the Syrian revolt was a catalyst for the formation of popular notions of 
Syrian- Arab identity. These nationalisms, however, were always locally con- 
ditioned. People who had perhaps not thought much about being part of a 


Epilogue and Conclusions 

larger, national community entered a struggle against a clearly but negatively 
defined enemy When rebels and insurgents conceived notions of their “imag- 
ined community,” the conception was theirs. They imagined it themselves in 
negative relation to the colonial occupier. In this process of imagining, they 
incorporated elements that made sense in terms of, and coexisted with, their 
existing ideas of self. Because new notions of identity were historically and 
culturally subjective, they differed from place to place, along with different 
local histories. Such notions of identity resist easy categorization and gener- 
alization. A central goal of this study has been to show that a collective na- 
tional identity can exist without a unitary, elite-guided notion of what such 
membership means. 

When people who had only one or more facet of identity in common faced 
an enemy that was clearly an “Other” (such as a colonial military power), a 
new facet could emerge or a preexisting facet might be pushed to the fore- 
ground, as a basis for collective action. When insurgents joined together to re- 
sist a colonial oppressor, for example, they did not hold identical conceptions 
of their national identity. The way one conceived or imagined the commu- 
nity obviously differed from person to person. But it was the common notion 
of membership that was important, not the common understanding of what 
membership meant. At moments of intense collective crisis, this notion of 
common membership could expand dramatically, almost overnight, and erase 
or subordinate differences between members of a single national community. 
The Syrian revolt of 1925 was such a moment of crisis. Despite its ultimate 
failure, the revolt had the lasting effect of permanently drawing disparate re- 
gions together under the idea of a Syrian-Arab nation. In spite of the deter- 
mined efforts of the mandate power to divide Syrian society permanently, the 
revolt helped allow Syrians to imagine themselves a unified nation. 

Connections born of Ottoman-era trade and education made such new 
notions of community possible. Just as the Syrian revolt of 1925 spread along 
grain-trade networks, the same Hawran-Maydan commercial alliance had 
sustained the Arab Revolt during the Great War. These patterns continued 
long after the 1925 uprising was crushed and its participants relegated to exile 
and political irrelevance. Decades later, sons of Damascene grain merchants 
and Druze shaykhs became the first proponents and adherents of a radical 
new nationalist ideology that became Ba'thism in the 1940s. Both Salah al- 
Din al-Bitar and Michel ‘Aflaq were the sons of Maydan grain merchants 
with extensive business in Jabal Hawran; and some of their first followers were 
young Druze, among whom was Mansur Sultan al-Atrash. The grain trade 
alliance and the Syrian revolt that it facilitated allowed a challenge not only 



to the French mandate but to the great landowning notables of Damascus 
who dominated Syrian politics until after independence. Just as their fathers 
had challenged the ruling elite of Damascus during the Great Revolt, young 
Ba'thist nationalists in the 1940s and 1950s sought to upend the postindepen- 
dence political system, only to be displaced in the 1960s by another generation 
of young men of rural origin who had received fully subsidized military edu- 
cation. These connections and structures thus run through much of modern 
Syrian history. 

Insurgents and their enemies understood the colossal stakes of the up- 
rising. Rebel documents show a fear both of the destruction wrought by over- 
whelming French military force and of the efforts of Syrian elites to speak 
for the revolt and marginalize rebel sacrifices. The insurgency failed. Massive 
military force destroyed villages, farms, and neighborhoods, killed thousands, 
and drove many into lengthy exile. The military government of the French 
mandate, sworn to foster the development, rights, and interests of the popula- 
tion under mandate, used means of repression and mechanized warfare never 
before unleashed on civilians. The revolt forced French colonial authorities 
and Syrian elites to recognize their common interests in preserving civil order 
and a social system inherited from Ottoman times. It also helped to entrench 
the huge internal security apparatus that would become an e nduring feature of 
mandate and postindependence government. For twenty years France would 
rule Syria in cooperation with moderate nationalists and urban elites of Da- 
mascus. Surviving rebels gradually returned to their devastated homes, their 
hopes dashed, the record of their struggles suppressed. And yet, in the ar- 
chives of their enemies and in the memories that old insurgents passed on, 
an echo of their voice remained. 




1. League of Nations Permanent Mandates Commission, Minutes of the Eighth 
Session, Van Rees to Session (1926), pp. 125-126. Van Rees was a member of the com- 
mission investigating the revolt and charged with protecting the mandate popula- 
tion from the excesses and abuses of the mandatory power. 

2. Excerpt from the widely disseminated “To Arms” proclamation and mani- 
festo distributed in Damascus on 23 August 1925 and signed by Sultan al-Atrash. 
See Ministere des Affaires Etrangeres, Archives Diplomatiques-Nantes (hereafter 
MAE-Nantes), carton 1704, Bulletin de Renseignements (br) 155, 28 August 1925, and 
Chapter 4. It appeared in the archives of France, Britain, and the League of N ations 
as well as in newspapers in Cairo, Paris, and London. 

3. Hanna Abi Rashid, Jabal al-duriiz (1961 ed.), pp. 180-181. He reproduced the 
letters. See Chapter 2, note 25, for a full discussion of this work. 

4 . 1 compiled the story of the “First Revolt of Sultan al-Atrash” from a num- 
ber of sources, including several interviews with his son Mansur Sultan al-Atrash 
between 1999 and 2002 and many interviews in Jabal Hawran. See also Abi Ra- 
shid, Jabal al-duruz; Salama 'Ubayd, al-Thawra al-suriyya al-kubra: 1925-1924 c ala 
dau watha’iq lam tunshar, pp. 92-95; Elizabeth Pauline MacCallum, The Nation- 
alist Crusade in Syria, pp. 108-109; an <A Kais M. Firro, A History of the Druzes, pp. 

5. Albert Hourani, “Ottoman Reform and the Politics of Notables,” in William 
R. Polk and Richard L. Chambers, eds., Beginnings of Modernization in the Middle 
East: The Nineteenth Century, p. 47. 

6. Philip S. Khoury, Syria and the French Mandate: The Politics of Arab Nation- 
alism, 1920-1945. 

7. Linda Schatkowski Schilcher, Families in Politics: Damascene Factions and Es- 
tates of the 18th and 19th Centuries. 

8. Rashid Khalidi and James L. Gelvin have made recent ground-breaking con- 
tributions to understanding popular politics. See Khalidi ’s Palestinia?i Identity: The 
Construction of Modern National Consciousness and his “Ottomanism and Arabismin 
Syria before 1914: A Reassessment,” in Rashid Khalidi, Lisa Anderson, et al., eds., 
The Origins of Arab N ationalism, pp. 50-69. See Gelvin’s Divided Loyalties: Nation- 


Notes to Pages 9-75 

a/ism and Mass Politics in Syria at the Close of Etnpire for Damascus between 1918 
and 1920. 

9. Beshara Doumani, Rediscovering Palestine: Merchants and Peasants in Jahal 
Nablus , 1700-1900, p. 157. See also Marion Farouk Sluglett and Peter Sluglett, “The 
Application of the 1858 Land Code in Greater Syria: Some Preliminary Observa- 
tions,” in Tarif Khalidi, ed., Land Tenure and Social Transformation in the Middle 

10. See Norman N. Lewis, Nomads and Settlers in Syria and Jordan, 1800-1980. 

11. Najib Elias Saliba, “ Wilayat Suriyya 1876-1909,” pp. 195-197; Selim Deringil, 
The Well-Protected Domains: Ideology and the Legitimation of Power in the Ottoman 
Empire, 1876-1909, pp. 99-100. 

12. This is clear from a random survey of Syrian newspapers during the mandate. 
The Damascus daily al-Muqtabas, for example, had a weekly column entitled “News 
from Istanbul” as well as features like “Who Is Mustafa Kemal?” In April and May 
1926 al-Muqtabas ran an eight-part serialized front-page feature titled “Mudhak- 
kirat Mustafa Kamal.” 

13. Linda Schatkowski Schilcher has laid the groundwork for considering the 
urban-rural linkages between Damascus and Hawran in a series of articles. See, for 
example, “The Grain Economy of Late Ottoman Syria and the Issue of Large- 
Scale Commercialization,” in Qaglar Keydar and Faruk Tabak, eds., Landholding 
and Commercial Agriculture in the Middle East, pp. 173-195. 

14. See the Private Papers collection of all three politicians in the Markaz al- 
Watha’iq al-Tarikhiyya ( mwt ), Damascus (Center for Historical Documents). 

15. Jacques Weulersse, Paysans de Syrie et du Proche-Orient. He argued that all 
Syria, and by extension the Arab East, was dominated by large estates and feudal 
exploitation. See Haim Gerber, The Social Origins of the Modern Middle East, pp. 
95-101, for a concise critique. 

16. The following are the best and most representative of their generation: 
Adham al-Jundi, Tarikh al-thawrat al-suriyya fi ‘ahd al-intiddb al-fransi; Munir 
al-Rayyis, al-Kitab al-dhahabi lil-thawrat al-wataniyya fi al-mashriq al-‘arabi: al- 
thawra al-suriyya al-kubra; Zafir al-Qasimi, Watha ’iq jadida ‘an al-thawra al-suriyya 
al-kubra; Dhuqan Qarqut, Tatawwur al-haraka al-wataniyya f suriyya, 1920-19J9; 
Muhi al-Din al-Safarjalani, Tarikh al-thawra al-suriyya; and Salama 'Ubayd, al- 
Thawra al-suriyya al-kubra: 1927-1927 ‘ ala dau’ watha’iq lam tunshar. 

17. Robert Blecher, “When Television Is Mandatory: Syrian Television Drama 
in the 1990s,” in Nadine Meouchy, ed., France, Syrie et Liban: Les ambiguites et les 
dynamiques de la relation mandataire, pp. 169-180. 

18. Zafir al-Qasimi, Wathd’iq jadida ‘an al-thawra al-suriyya al-kubra, pp. 103- 
109. Qasimi, a prominent Damascene Muslim jurist and intellectual, describes Sul- 
tan al-Atrash in glowing terms as a nationalist hero and partner with Dr. Abd al- 
Rahman Shahbandar. When Sultan al-Atrash died in 1982, it was claimed that more 

Notes to Pages 16-18 


people came to his funeral than to any other in Syrian history. He remains a potent 
symbol in southern Syria inside and outside the Druze community. Birgit Schaebler 
has discussed some of these issues. See her “Coming to Terms with Failed Revo- 
lutions: Historiography in Syria, Germany and France,” Middle Eastern Studies 35, 
no. 1 (January 1999): 17-44. And for a classic review of Arab-Ottoman historiog- 
raphy generally, see Rifaat Ali Abou-El-Haj, “The Social Uses of the Past: Recent 
Arab Historiography of Ottoman Rule,” ijmes 14 (1982): 185-201. 

19. Hasan Amin al-Bi'aynl, Duruz suriyya wa lubnan ji ‘ahd al-intidab al-fransi, 
1920-1945 , Jabal al- c arab safahat min tarikh al-muwahhidin al-duruz (1685-1927), and 
Sultan Basha al-Atrash: Masira qai’d ft tarikh umma. 

20. See Kamal Salibi, A House of Many Mansions: The History of Lebanon Recon- 

21. Firro, A History of the Druzes. Birgit Schaebler ’s work also falls in this cate- 
gory. See Birgit Schabler, Aufstande im Drusenbergland: Ethnizitat und Integration 
einer Landlichen Gesellschaft Syriens vom Osmanischen Reich bis zur Staatlichen Una- 
bhdngigkeit, 1850-1949. 

22. Books along this line are, of course, numerous. I mention only a few of the 
most important here: General Charles Joseph Andrea, La revolte druze et I’insurrec- 
tion de Damas; Capitaine Gabriel Carbillet, Au Djebel Druse, choses vues et vecues; 
and Paul Coblentz, Le silence de Sarrail. Andrea crushed the revolt, Carbillet was 
the French governor of the Jabal Druze, and Coblentz was the personal secretary 
and posthumous apologist for High Commissioner Sarrail, who was relieved of his 
post for his handling of the revolt. 

23. Khoury, Syria and the French Mandate, and his “A Reinterpretation of the 
Origins and Aims of the Great Syrian Revolt, 1925-1927,” in Arab Civilization: 
Challenges and Responses: Studies in Honor of Constantine K. Aurayk, pp. 241-271; 
Hanna Batatu, Syria’s Peasantry, the Descendants of Its Lesser Rural Notables, and 
Their Politics. Lenka Bokova’s La confrontation franco-syrienne a Pepoque du mandat, 
1925-1927 is likewise an important work on the revolt. She covers the elite politics 
of the revolt, both French and Syrian, from a Marxist perspective. 

24. Just as he broke new ground for the history of the mandate, Khoury has since 
led a rethinking of the universal claims of Syria’s interwar nationalist movement. 
See “The Paradoxical in Arab Nationalism: Interwar Syria Revisited,” in James Jan- 
kowski and Israel Gershoni, eds., Rethinking Nationalism in the Arab Middle East, 
pp. 273-287. 

25. See Philip S. Khoury, Urban Notables and Arab Nationalism: The Politics of 
Damascus, 1860-1920. 

26. See Gelvin’s Divided Loyalties; and Hasan Kayali, Arabs and Young Turks: 
Ottomanism, Arabism, and Islamism in the Ottoman Empire, 1908-1918. Another 
former student of Khoury ’s, Eugene Rogan, has published a valuable study of the 
Ottoman frontier region that became Jordan. See Frontiers of the State in the Late 


Notes to Pages 19-24 

Ottoman Empire: Transjordan, 1850-1921. He focuses on rural integration in the final 
years of the Ottoman Empire and is thus not primarily concerned with the rise of 

27. Rashid Khalidi is a rare exception on both counts. His book Palestinian Iden- 
tity considers the bases of popular nationalism in the countryside. And his earlier 
articles stressed the emergence of nationalism among new classes of non- elites. See 
his “Ottomanism and Arabism in Syria before 1914: A Reassessment,” in Rashid 
Khalidi, Lisa Anderson, et al., eds., The Origins of Arab Nationalism, pp. 50-69. 

28. Khoury, Syria and the French Mandate, p. 12. 

29. See Batatu, Syria’s Peasantry, pp. 254-255, on Asad’s sympathy for and iden- 
tification with Syria’s farmers. 

30. E. J. Hobsbawm, Nations and Nationalism since ij8o: Programme, Myth, 
Reality, pp. 8-10. Elsewhere he distinguishes between the rise of imagined, national 
communities and the decline of real communities, by which he presumably means 
more traditional communities, p. 46 (original emphasis). I am following here the 
arguments of Partha Chatterjee in Nationalist Thought and the Colonial World: A 
Derivative Discourse ? (pp. 19-22). 

31. Partha Chatterjee, The Nation and Its Fragments: Colonial and Postcolonial 
Histories, p. 5. 

32. Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth. 

33. See Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and 
Spread of Nationalism, revised ed. (London: Verso, 1991); and, for an incisive cri- 
tique, Chatterjee, Nationalist Thought and the Colonial World, pp. 19-22, and The 
Nation and Its Fragments, pp. 3-5. 

34. Rashid Khalidi discusses overlapping identities in Palestinian Identity, p. 153. 
The crystallization of national identity in moments of collective crisis is also cen- 
tral to Gelvin’s argument in Divided Loyalties, p. 12. 

35. Two recently published books dealing with modern Syria have profitably uti- 
lized the Archives Diplomatiques at Nantes. See Elizabeth Thompson, Colonial 
Citizens: Republican Rights, Paternal Privilege, and Gender in French Syria and Leba- 
non; and Gelvin, Divided Loyalties. The singular example of the use of police and 
intelligence records is Hanna Batatu, The Old Social Classes and the Revolution- 
ary Movements of Iraq: A Study of Iraq’s Old Landed and Commercial Classes and 
of Its Communists, Ba‘thists, and Free Officers. Martin Thomas has recently pub- 
fished a useful exploration of the French mandate intelligence service: “French 
Intelligence-Gathering in the Syrian Mandate, 1920-40,” Middle Eastern Studies 
38, no. 2 (2002): 1-35. 

36. Ranajit Guha, Elementary Aspects of Peasant Insurgency in Colonial India, pp. 

37. It is thanks to the generous help of people like Dr. Hasan al-Bi'ayni, Dr. Fandi 
Abu Fakhr, Shaykh Muhammad Tarabayh, Mr. Ziyad Abu Shaqra, and especially 

Notes to Pages 24-37 


Mr. Talal Kamal Rizq that I gained access to such sources. Songs and poems are an 
important source in rural Syria. See Shibli al-Atrash, Diwdn Shibli al-Atrash; Hasan 
al-Qaysi Nasr, Qabsat min turath al-sha‘bi: ma‘drik wa qasa’id; 'All ‘Ubayd, ‘Ali 
‘ Ubayd rubabat al-thawra: qasa’id shuruqiyya wataniyya; and Ata Allah al-Zaqut, 
Adwa ’ ‘ala al-thawra al-suriyya al-kubra. 

38. See, for example, Hanna Abi Rashid, Hawran al-ddmiyya , and Jabal al-duruz; 
Muhammad Sa'id al-As, Safahat min al-ayydm al-hamra’; Hilal Bek ‘Izz al-Din 
al-Halabi, “Mudhakkirat Hilal Bek ‘Izz al-Din al-Halabi”; Fahmi al-Mahayri, al- 
Mudhakkirdt c an al-thawra al-suriyya; Abdallah N ajj At, Band ma ' ruff jabal hawran; 
Niqulaws al-Qadi, Arba c un c aman ji hawran wa jabal al-duruz; ‘All Sayf al-Din 
al-Qintar, ‘“Ala hamish al-thawra”; ‘Ali Sayf al-Din al-Qintar, “Murasalat sir- 
riyya ‘an thawrat Sultan al-Atrash”; Fawzi al-Qawuqji, al-Mudhakkirat: 1914-32; 
‘All ‘Ubayd, Ali ‘ Ubayd rubabat al-thawra: qasa ’id shuruqiyya wataniyya; and ‘All 
‘Ubayd, “Mudhakkirat ‘Ali ‘Ubayd.” 

39. A mostly complete collection of al-Muqtabas is in the Asad Library in Da- 
mascus and the French Institute, also in Damascus. Lisan al-hal from Beirut is in 
the aub Jafet Library. Alif ba’ and a few others are represented in spotty collections 
in the Asad Library. The smaller-circulation Damascus dailies are often known 
only from French mandate press reports. L’Echo de Paris and L’Humanite are in the 
French National Library in Paris. Al-Ahrdm and Filastin are in the University of 
Chicago Regenstein Library. 


1. Jabal (Mount) Hawran is the traditional geographical name for this series 
of high, though gently sloping, mountains. During the nineteenth century it be- 
came known for its predominantly Druze inhabitants and was called Jabal al-Duruz 
(Druze Mountain). Postindependence efforts to deemphasize symbols of sectarian 
difference dictated the change to an earlier name, Jabal al-‘Arab (Arab Mountain), 
originally so named for the seminomadic tribes who lived there before the mid- 
nineteenth century. I have opted to utilize the traditional geographical name. 

2. Some of these events have been described in other places. See Khoury, Syria 
and the French Mandate, p. 151; Firro, A History of the Druzes, p. 285; and ‘Ubayd, 
al-Thawra al-suriyya al-kubra, pp. 124-125. 

3. Kais Firro, alone among historians of Druze society, points out that the feu- 
dalism of Jabal Hawran differed from European feudalism; see A History of the 
Druzes, p. 212. 

4. On the reasons for continued migration, see ibid., pp. 155-164. Lewis, draw- 
ing on many sources, estimates that the population of Jabal Hawran nearly tripled in 
the decade of the 1860s; see Nomads and Settlers in Syria and Jordan, p. 94. The wars 
and the postwar settlements in nineteenth-century Mount Lebanon have been the 
topic of several fine books. See Engin Deniz Akarli, The Lotig Peace: Ottoman Leba- 


Notes to Pages 32-34 

non, 1861-1920; Caesar E. Farah, The Politics of Interventionistn in Ottoman Lebanon, 
i8jo-i86i (London: I. B. Tauris, 2000); Leila Tarazi Fawaz, An Occasion for War: 
Civil Conflict in Lebanon and Damascus in i860 (Berkeley: University of California 
Press, 1994); and Ussama Makdisi, The Cidture of Sectarianism: Comtnunity, His- 
tory, and Violence in Nineteenth-Century Ottoman Lebanon. 

5. A rich and growing literature on the institution of musha’ now exists. See, for 
example, Ya’akov Firestone, “The Land-Equalizing Musha' Village: A Reassess- 
ment,” in Gad G. Gilbar, ed., Ottoman Palestine, 1800-1914: Studies in Economic and 
Social History; and Martha Mundy, “Qada 5 ‘Ajlun in the Late Nineteenth Century: 
Interpreting a Region from the Ottoman Land Registers,” Levant 28 (1996): 77-95, 
and “Village Land and Individual Title: Musha' and Ottoman Land Registration 
in the ‘Ajlun District,” in Eugene L. Rogan and Tariq Tell, eds., Village, Steppe a?td 
State: The Social Origms of Modern Jordatt, pp. 58-79. The latest contribution fo- 
cuses on Jabal Hawran: see Birgit Schaebler, “Practicing Musha': Common Lands 
and the Common Good in Southern Syria under the Ottomans and the French,” 
in Roger Owen, ed., New Perspectives on Property and Land in the Middle East, pp. 
241-307. My thanks to Birgit Schaebler for providing advance proofs of her article. 

6. This section draws on many sources. See, for example, the classic study of 
rural Syria, Lewis, Nomads and Settlers in Syria and Jordan; and ‘Abdallah Hanna, 
al- c Ammiyya wa al-intifadat al-faldhiyya (18J0-1918) f jabal hawran, pp. 303-308. 
‘Abdallah Hanna is the foremost historian of rural Syria. See also Fandi Abu Fakhr, 
Tarikh liwa’ hawran al-ijtimai: al-suwaydd - dar’d- al-qunaytra- ‘ajlun, 1840-1918; 
and al-Bi‘ayni,/«£fl/ al-‘arab safahat min tarikh al-muwahhidin al-duruz, pp. 55-71. 

7. The relevant statistics seem to originate from a report commissioned by the 
Syrian government and completed in 1947. See Republic of Syria (Sir Alexander 
Gibb & Partners, Consulting Engineers), The Economic Development of Syria, p. 20, 
Table 10. They have been reproduced many times, though usually without citing the 
source. See Bureau des Documentations Syriennes et Arabes, Etudes sur V agriculture 
syrienne (Damascus, 1955), p. 24; and Haim Gerber, The Social Origins of the Modern 
Middle East, p. 96 and Table 6.1, p. 97, adapted from Doreen Warriner, Land Reform 
and Development in the Middle East, p. 83. Also ‘Abdallah Hanna, al-Qadiyya al- 
zird‘iyya wa al-harakdt al-fallahiyya f suriyya wa lubnan (1820-1920) , vol. 2, pp. 44- 
48. They are impossible to authenticate, since I have found no mention of the origi- 
nal source or survey method. Still, they are certainly illustrative of general trends. 
Warriner stated that the first Syrian cadastral survey was begun in 1923. My re- 
search to date indicates that it was probably never finished. See Jacques Weulersse, 
Paysans de Syrie et du Proche-Orient, pp. 189-190. 

8. Descriptions of abandoned villages and endless fallow fields are legion and 
figure in all travelers’ accounts until the 1860s. 

9 . 1 have drawn on the work of Linda Schatkowski Schilcher for the importance 
of the grain trade. See “The Grain Economy of Late Ottoman Syria and the Issue 

Notes to Pages 34-38 


of Large-Scale Commercialization,” pp. 173-195, “The Hauran Conflicts of the 
1860’s: A Chapter in the Rural History of Modern Syria,” ijmes 13 (1981): 159-179, 
and “The Great Depression (1873-1896) and the Rise of Syrian Arab Nationalism,” 
New Perspectives o?t Turkey 5-6 (Suraiya Faroqhi, guest editor) (Fall 1991): 167-189. 

10. Firro describes the rise of Isma'il best: A History of the Druzes, p. 188. 

11. Muhammad Sa'id al-Qasimi, Qdmus al-sind c dt al-shbmiyya, p. 55. Grain deal- 
ers were called bd’ika (plural buwdyki) in Damascus. 

12. “Mudhakkirat Sultan , " senaVized in Bayrut al-masd’ 9J-120 (1975-1976), part 
98, p. 25. The importance of these relationships did not end with the Great Re- 
volt of 1925. Sultan al-Atrash’s son Mansur al-Atrash married the daughter of his 
father’s Christian Maydani grain merchant, Yusuf al-Shuwayri, who had a house 
in their village. Yusuf ‘Aflaq, grain merchant and father of Ba'th Party founder 
Michel Aflaq, also had a house in the village of al-Qraya. Salah al-Din al-Bitar, 
the other founder of the party, was also the son of a Maydani grain merchant who 
dealt with Jabal Hawran. Mansur al-Atrash joined the Ba'th Party as a student at 
aub. See Batatu, Syria’s Peasantry , pp. 134 and 142. Mansur al-Atrash followed the 
party leaders to advanced study in Paris. 

13. Ministere des Affaires Etrangeres, Archives Diplomatiques-Nantes (mae- 
Nantes), carton 984, “hauran,” “Requete des habitants des villages,” 20 March 1930. 
Beshara Doumani has best described the capitalist integration of the hinterland of 
Nablus at approximately the same time. He argues convincingly that the emerg- 
ing rural middle class worked hand in hand with urban merchants to exploit poorer 
peasants. While the behavior of Druze shaykhs in the plain of Hawran is consistent 
with his argument, their Jabal co-religionists resisted exploitation more effectively. 
See Rediscovering Palestine, pp. 162-173. 

14. Abu Fakhr, Tdrikh liwa’ hawran al-ijtima’i, p. 90. Al-Khalidi’s service began 
in 1893. The job of the governor was always difficult. Some formed bonds, however, 
that would reemerge later. The Damascene Ghazzi family was deeply involved in 
the revolt of 1925. Rashid Khalidi suggests that the appointment of Yusuf Diya’ as 
qd ’ immaqam of Jabal Hawran was punishment for criticism of Sultan Abdiilhamid’s 
repressive policies. He characterizes Yusuf Diya’ as an “Arabist, in the sense of a 
cultural nationalist.” It is intriguing to contemplate what influence the ideas of Yu- 
suf Diya’ may have had on the Druze shaykhs he lived among. He was evidently 
the most widely accepted outside governor of Jabal Hawran. See Palestinian Iden- 
tity, p. 85. 

15. Firro, A History of the Druzes, pp. 231-233. 

16. The events of 1910 have been recounted elsewhere. See, for example, al- 
Atrash, “Mudhakkirat Sultan,” part 97, p. 36; Firro, A History of the Druzes, pp. 243- 
244. See also the works of Engin Deniz Akarli, Some Ottoman Documents on Jordan: 
Ottoman Criteria for the Choice of an Administrative Center in the Light of Documents 
on Hauran, igoq-igio; and Samir M. Seikaly, “Pacification of the Hawran (1910): 


Notes to Pages 38-39 

The View from Within.” I thank the authors for kindly giving me copies of these 
articles. Fandi Abu Fakhr has a copy of the death warrant for Dhuqan al-Atrash 
and some other shaykhs, signed by the grand vizier. Reproduced in his Tdrikh liwd ’ 
hawran al-ijtimai , Document 13, p. 344. 

17. The classic treatment, now a historical document in its own right, is Marc 
Bloch, La societefeodale: La forrnation des liens de dependance (Paris: A. Michel, 1939). 
Another relevant text, still influential, is Weulersse, Paysans de Syrie et du Proche- 
Orient. He argues that all Syria, and by extension the Arab East, was dominated by 
large estates and feudal exploitation. See Gerber, The Social Origms of the Modern 
Middle East, pp. 95-101, for a concise critique. 

18. Engin Deniz Akarli, “Abdiilhamid IPs Attempt to Integrate Arabs into the 
Ottoman System,” in David Kushner, ed., Palestine in the Late Ottoman Period: Po- 
litical, Social, and Economic Transformation, pp. 74-89. He notes the separate exis- 
tence of military high schools in Damascus and Baghdad (p. 78). 

19. John Presland, Deedes Bey: A Study of Sir Wyndham Deedes, 188J-192J (London: 
Macmillan, 1942), p. 87. Quoted in Selim Deringil, The Well-Protected Domains: Ide- 
ology and the Legitimation of Power in the Ottoman Empire, i 8 j 6 -i<)ot), p. 101. This 
notion of discipline and enticement is a commonplace in most examples of imperial 
rule. See Timothy Mitchell, Colo?iising Egypt, p. 95. 

20. See the work of Stefan Weber, “Images of Imagined Worlds: Self-Image 
and Worldview in Late Ottoman Wall Paintings of Damascus,” in Jens Hanssen, 
Thomas Philipp, and Stefan Weber, eds., The Empire in the City: Arab Provincial 
Capitals in the Late Ottoman Empire. He demonstrates vividly that nineteenth- 
century Damascene domestic architecture and decoration reflects deep identifica- 
tion with the symbols of the Ottoman state. 

21. Khoury, Syria and the French Mandate, pp. 255-257 and 410-411. By my count, 
seven out of the twelve listed from the Damascus National Bloc leadership gradu- 
ated from Maktab Anbar. Only one of the twelve, Ahmad al-Lahham, attended the 
military school, in both Damascus and Istanbul. Among them, only he and Nasib 
al-Bakri were directly involved in the revolt of 1925. 

22 . 1 have found few references to the Damascus Military School. It is known 
from oral sources in Damascus, the World War I German cadastral surveys of 
Damascus, and passing mentions in memoirs, biographical dictionaries, and the 
Ottoman Sdlndme (yearbook) for Syria. There was a military primary school, al- 
Madrasa al-Rushdiyya al-'Askariyya, and a secondary school, Maktab al-Ldadiyya 
al- Askariyya ( Sdlndme , 1315/1897-1898, p. 154; Sdlndme, 1316/1898-1899, p. 160; Sal- 
name, 1317/1899-1900, p. 161). It was open by 1897, and probably before. Ahmad 
al-Lahham, who was bom in 1883, is the oldest pupil that I have noticed. See Jurj 
Faris, Man huwa fi suriyya, i<)4c), p. 389. Like most others, Ahmad al-Lahham went 
on to the Imperial Military School in Istanbul. Other graduates with central roles 
in the Great Revolt, all of whom were born within a few years of 1890, include 

Notes to Pages 40-41 


Sa'id al-'As, Zaki al-Durubi, Muhammad ‘Izz al-Din al-Halabi, Zaki al-Halabi, 
Yahya al-Hayati, Mazhar al-Siba'i, and Fawzi al-Qawuqji. Ramadan Shallash from 
Dayr al-Zur and ‘All al-Atrash from Suwayda’ went from the Tribal School to the 
Mekteb-i Harbiye, while most of the others went from the Damascus Military 
School to the Harbiye. For Sa'id al-'As, see Muhammad Sa'id al-'As, al-Tajdrib al- 
harbiyyaf harub al-thawra al-suriyya, pp. 11-12. For Zaki al-Durubi, see al-Jundi, 
Tarikh al-thawrdt al-suriyya , p. 507. For Muhammad 'Izz al-Din, see Faris, Man 
huwa fi suriyya , pp. 129-130. For Zaki al-Halabi, see al-'As, Safahat, pp. 44-45. 
For Fawzi al-Qawuqji, see al-Jundi, Tarikh al-thawrat al-suriyya , p. 557. And for 
Ramadan Shallash, see al-'As, Safahat , p. 109. For other examples and a fuller dis- 
cussion of this emerging class, see Rashid Khalidi, “Society and Ideology in Late 
Ottoman Syria: Class, Education, Profession and Confession,” in John P. Spagnolo, 
ed., Problems of the Middle East in Historical Perspective: Essays in Honour of Albert 
Hourani, p. 118. He makes the point that radicalized provincial military officers of 
humble background would yet have their part to play in Syrian history, as they did 
in Turkey, Iraq, and Egypt. Their entry into national politics in Syria would have to 
wait for another generation. My thanks to Stefan Weber for references to the mili- 
tary schools. 

23. Patrick Seale, The Struggle for Syria: A Study of Post-War Arab Politics , 1945- 
1958, p. 37. The notion of military education as a means of advancement for the am- 
bitious poor still exists in Damascene oral history. Obviously, it existed elsewhere 
in the former Ottoman realms as well, since the number of village and provincial 
boys who made good in the army includes Atatiirk and Jamal ‘Abd al-Nasir. 

24. See Eugene L. Rogan, “Afiret Mektebi: Abdtilhamid II’s School for Tribes 
(1892-1907),” ijmes 28 (1996): 83-107. His article is the best treatment of this 
strange and interesting institution. 

25. Ibid., Table 1, p. 88, and Table 4, p. 101. In the first table he includes a certain 
Druze Fahd, with no family name or father listed. In the fourth table he mentions 
Fath b. Farhan al-Atrash, who I think is the same person, with two first names due 
to scribal error. Fahd b. Farhan al-Atrash is pictured in Hanna Abi Rashid’s Jabal 
al-duruz (1961 edition, which has identical text but different pagination). Hanna 
Abi Rashid’s two books, Jabal al-duruz and Hawrdn al-ddmiyya, are the most valu- 
able primary source documents extant for the local history of Hawran in the early 
twentieth century. The two 1961 editions have sequential pagination. Jabal al-duruz 
was translated by the French Service des Renseignements in its entirety and is in the 
French archives, MAE-Nantes, carton 551, “djebel [sic] druze.” Published in Cairo, 
it was banned in Syria during the mandate. Abi Rashid helpfully states that the 
dapper gent shown graduated from the Tribal School in Istanbul and is now the 
qd’immaqam of Sarkhad [sic ] — probably Salkhad ( Jabal al-duruz , p. 120). 

26. al-'As, Safahat \ p. 107; Rogan, “Afiret Mektebi,” p. 88, Table 1. Shallash is 
listed in the first graduating class, and a certain 'Ali from Suwayda’ is also listed 


Notes to Pages 41-44 

without further information. The dates match, and al- As documents that this was 
probably 'All b. Faris b. Ibrahim al-Atrash, brother of Tawfiq, who was assistant 
chief of police in 1925, and not Ali, the brother of Sultan, who was born in 1895 . 1 
thank Mansur Sultan al-Atrash for clarification. 

27. Faris, Man huwa ft suriyya, pp. 129-130. 

28. The autonomy agreement is controversial. Abi Rashid reproduced it in his 
Jabal al-duruz, pp. 128-129. But Sultan al-Atrash claimed in his memoirs that it did 
not exist. See also Firro, A History of the Druzes , pp. 250-251. 

29. Al-Atrash, “Mudhakkirat Sultan,” part 98, p. 36. He listed Shahbandar, 
Nasib al-Bakri, Ahmad Mudri, Rafiq al-Tamimi, Shaykh Sa'ad al-Bani, Abd al- 
Latif al-Asali, Zaki al-Durubi, Tzz al-Din al-Tanawkhi, Nazih al-Mu’ayyad al- 
Azm, Tahsin Qadri, Khalil al-Sukakini, Rustum Haydar, and Khalil Saydah, 
among many others. Khoury was first to outline the ties between Damascus and 
Jabal Hawran during the revolt: Syria and the French Mandate , p. 165. Wartime Sha- 
rifian patronage was limited to grain sales and guns in the Jabal, but postwar patron- 
age was more expansive and benefited many Damascene participants in the revolt of 
1925, particularly members of the Bakri family. See Gelvin, Divided Loyalties, p. 58. 

30. Abi Rashid, Jabal al-duruz, pp. 126-127. Biographical information on Fawzi 
and Nasib al-Bakri is in Faris, Man huwa fi suriyya, pp. 67-68. See also Schilcher, 
Families in Politics, p. 156. 

31. George Antonius, The Arab Awakening: The Story of the Arab National Move- 
ment, pp. 149-153; Gelvin, Divided Loyalties, pp. 57-58. 

32. According to Ramez Tomeh’s extraordinary survey of Damascus landowners 
compiled from land reform expropriation records in 1958 and 1963, only one mem- 
ber of the Bakri family had enough land even to qualify for expropriation. See 
Ramez George Tomeh, “Landownership and Political Power in Damascus: 1858— 
1958,” Table 27, Ra’ifah al-Bakri, 29.654 hectares of irrigated and unirrigated land 
in west Ghuta. When one considers that some of the famous families of Damas- 
cus had tens of thousands of hectares expropriated, the Bakris seem very modest by 
comparison. It bears mention that waqfiyya and urban property were not reported 
or expropriated. Since the Bakris were urban landlords in al-Shaghur, their ma- 
terial wealth is difficult to assess accurately. Suffice it to say, however, that scores of 
Damascene families were richer. 

33. Linda Schatkowski Schilcher, “The Famine of 1915-1918 in Greater Syria,” 
in John P. Spagnolo, ed., Problems of the Middle East in Historical Perspective: Essays 
in Honour of Albert Hourani. See also Najwa al-Qattan, “Safarbarlik: Collective 
Memory and Identity,” unpublished paper delivered at the Syrian Land Confer- 
ence, Erlangen, Germany, June 2000. 

34. In what might be considered a typical complaint of a front-line officer, Otto 
Viktor Karl Liman von Sanders, commander-in-chief of the Arab front, wrote in 
his memoirs that Istanbul not only seemed uninterested in reinforcing his forces but 

Notes to Pages 44-51 


actively sought to divert troops and equipment to other fronts. The unmistakable 
implication is that Enver, anyway, sought to reinforce the more “Turkish” regions. 
See Otto Viktor Karl Liman von Sanders, Five Years in Turkey , p. 254 for officer re- 
postings, pp. 257-259 for resupply problems, and p. 265 for British propaganda. See 
Hasan Kayali’s Arabs and Young Turks: Ottomanism, Arabism , and Islamism in the 
Ottoman Empire, 1908-1918, for a more nuanced view of Ottoman wartime policy. 

35. Schilcher, “The Famine of 1915-1918 in Greater Syria,” p. 246. 

36. Al-Atrash, “Mudhakkirat Sultan,” part 98, p. 35; Liman von Sanders, Five 
Years in Turkey, p. 262. He reproduced an intelligence report dated 19 August 1918, 
from a Dr. Brode. “For about two months an organized caravan traffic has existed 
from Akaba across the Huarun, the Druse mountains [sic]. Sugar, coffee, and cot- 
ton goods are imported, and apricot paste is exported, together with great quantities 
of grain from the Hauran.” Elsewhere Liman von Sanders wrote: “Had the money 
been available, all requirements of the Army Group, and large additional supplies, 
could have been purchased from the Arabs. As the money was not forthcoming, a 
large part of the harvest of the Arabian grain lands and thousands of camel loads 
from Hauran, inhabited by Druses, went to the British, who paid in gold” (p. 236). 

37. Abi Rashid, Jabal al-duruz, pp. 131-133. Qarqut also reproduces the letters, 
without attribution, in his Tatawwur al-haraka al-wataniyya pi suriyya, pp. 264-266. 

38. Gelvin’s Divided Loyalties covers this period in detail. 

39. Batatu, The Old Social Classes and the Revolutionary Movements of Iraq, pp. 
319-320; Khoury, Urban Notables and Arab Nationalism, pp. 79-81. 


1. See Gelvin’s Divided Loyalties, pp. m-113, 296-297, for popular national- 
ism and the quarter-based mobilization of Damascus. Gelvin makes it clear that 
the Damascus-based committee of national defense and the popular committees of 
Faysal’s short reign formed the nucleus of Damascus Great Revolt fighters in 1925. 

2. Khoury, Syria and the French Mandate, pp. 99-108. Al-Jundi, Tdrikh al- 
thawrat al-suriyya, covers all the revolts and rebels in encyclopedic fashion. 

3. Khoury, Syria and the French Mandate, pp. 58-60. 

4. See the following for more comprehensive views of the origins and aims of 
the mandate: Khoury, Syria and the French Mandate, pp. 55-62; Edmund Burke III, 
“A Comparative View of French Native Policy in Morocco and Syria, 1912-1925,” 
Middle Eastern Studies 9 (May 1973): 175-186; Thompson, Colonial Citizens. 

5. The document has been well circulated. See the English translation in For- 
eign Office (fo) 371/4310, 13028/214, enclosure, 23 June 1925. The original agree- 
ment was dated 4 March 1921 (Abi Rashid, Jabal al-duruz, pp. 168-171; ‘Ubayd, al- 
Thawra al-suriyya al-kubra, p. 87). My thanks to Dr. Hasan Amin al-Bi c ayni for a 
copy of the original agreement. Abi Rashid’s reproduction matches exactly. Bi'ayni 
has also reproduced it in his Jabal al-‘arab, pp. 288-290. 


Notes to Pages 51-54 

6. Capitaine Gabriel Carbillet, Au Djebel Druse , choses vues et vecues. This book 
has recently been translated into Arabic by Nabil Abu Sa'b. See Mudhakkirdt al- 
kdbitan kdrbiyyih ft jabal al-‘arab (Suwayda’, 1999). 

7. Abi Rashid, Jabal al-duruz, pp. 221-222; 'Ubayd, al-Thawra al-suriyya al- 
kubrd, p. 116; Paul Coblentz, The Silence ofSarrail, trans. Arthur Chambers, p. 223 
(Coblentzwas Sarrail’s secretary and posthumous apologist); Firro, A History of the 
Druzes, p. 277. 

8. Abi Rashid, Jabal al-duruz , p. 252. Abi Rashid reproduced the petition and 
a full list of signatories, which included Amir Hamad al-Atrash, Nasib Bek al- 
Atrash, Abd al-Ghaffar Basha al-Atrash, Mit'ib Bek al-Atrash, Fadl Allah Basha 
al-Atrash, Najim Basha Tzz al-Din [Halabi], Hilal Bek ‘Izz al-Din [Halabi], Quf- 
tan Bek ‘Azzam, Nasib Bek Nasar, Sa'id Bek Abu Assaf, Hamad Bek ‘Azzam, 
Dawud Bek Abu Assaf, Hamud Bek Nasr, Jad Allah Bek Salam, As'ad Bek Mur- 
shid, Khalil Bek Kaywan, ‘Umar Bek al-Hanawi, Firhan Bek Abu Ras, Shabib Bek 
Qintar, Muhammad Bek Abu ‘Asali, Hamud Bek Jurbu', Burjis Bek al-Atrash, 
Sulayman Bek al-Atrash, Sayah Bek al-Atrash, Husayn Bey al-Hunaydi, Fawaz Bek 
al-Halabi, Abdallah Bek Najjar, Hasan Bek al-Lahham, and the author, al-Ustadh 
Hanna Abi Rashid. The titles listed are significant. Amir Hamad received his title 
of “Amir” through the community’s choice of him to succeed Amir Salim, whose 
title was bestowed by Amir Faysal; see al-Muqtabas, 11 October 1923. Those men 
denoted “Basha” were mostly so titled by the Ottoman government, which had a 
policy of bestowing honors and titles to gain loyalty. “Bek” means little more than 
“Mister” in this context — an honorific for a local leader. Sultan al-Atrash claimed 
that Sharif al-Husayn also granted him the title of “Amir,” but he refused it. Sultan 
al-Atrash received two Ottoman medals and the title “Basha” from the Ottoman 
state in 1917. See Faris, Man huwa Ji suriyya, pp. 31-32. The Damascus press also re- 
ported the delegation and its aims of union with the state of Syria. See MAE-Nantes, 
carton 892, “Journal Syrienne al-Ahrar,” 27 May 1925. 

9. Abi Rashid, Jabal al-duruz , p. 252. See also Firro, A History of the Druzes, 
p. 280. 

10. Hilal Bek Tzz al-Din al-Halabi, “Mudhakkirat, 1925-1927,” p. 28. 

11. Abi Rashid, Jabal al-duruz, p. 265. 

12. For Husayn Murshid Ridwan, see Faris, Man huwaji suriyya, pp. 178-179. 

13. Abi Rashid, Jabal al-duruz, pp. 266-267; al-Atrash, “Mudhakkirat Sultan,” 
part 103, p. 35. Abi Rashid was an eyewitness and a professional journalist. His 
account is extraordinarily valuable and rich with detailed information and accu- 
rately reproduced documents. Firro mentions that Abi Rashid apparently had access 
to French intelligence documents in 1925, since his translations match the French 
originals exactly: A History of the Druzes, p. 285 and note 23. Nevertheless, Abi Ra- 
shid provides assured numerical figures for demonstrators and fighters in the mul- 
tiple hundreds, while other accounts mention crowds, bands, and groups, and he 

Notes to Pages 54-56 


consistently attributes the vilest motives and actions to all French personnel except 
Raynaud, while the Druze are portrayed as more patient and peace-loving than in 
any chronicle before or since. Hanna Abi Rashid was not a Druze but a Maronite 
Christian and journalist who lived in the Jabal. 

14. Abi Rashid, Jabal al-duruz, p. 267. 

15. Ibid. (p. 257 in the 1925 edition, which has only has a photo and short biogra- 
phy on Faris). Faris al-Atrash later fled to Dar'a under the protection of the French 
garrison there to escape retribution for his pro-French politics (Andrea, La revoke 
druze et I’insurrection de Damas, p. 57). Faris al-Atrash, seemingly alone among the 
Druze shaykhs, never joined the uprising and continued to support the mandate 
government during the revolt. See the Damascus daily al-Muqtabas, 12 January 
1926, for a front-page article on Faris al-Atrash and his politics. 

16. ‘Ubayd, al-Thawra al-suriyya al-kubra, p. 120. Damascus British consul W. A. 
Smart’s report, probably drawing on French oral sources, substantially agrees with 
this account, adding that Maurel was injured by stones and sticks. Foreign Office 
( fo ) 371/4310, 13028/217, Smart to Chamberlain, 10 July 1925. 

17. Firro, A History of the Druzes, pp. 282-283. 

18. Abi Rashid, Jabal al-duruz , pp. 270-271. 

19. fo 371/4310, 13028/217, 10 July 1925, Smart to Chamberlain. 

20. Abi Rashid, Jabal al-duruz , pp. 271-272. See also Narcisse Bouron, Les 
Druzes: Histoire du Liban et de la montagne haouranaise , pp. 237-238; 'Ubayd, al- 
Thawra al-suriyya al-kubra , p. 121. 

21. Firro, A History of the Druzes , pp. 283-284. 

22. 'Ubayd, al-Thawra al-suriyya al-kubra , p. 121. 

23. Ministere des Affaires Etrangeres ( mae ), Syrie-Liban 1918-1929, vol. 240, 
“Les causes de la revolution Druze,” p. 174. Cited in Firro, A History of the Druzes , 
p. 284. 

24. Henri de Kerillis, “Les scandales Sarrail: La navrante verite sur le souleve- 
ment des Djebel Druses,” L’Echo de Paris , 8 August 1925. Sarrail was the object of 
a long series of vitriolic attacks in the French right-wing press. The Right was not 
alone in attacking Sarrail, however; see L’Humanite , the French Communist Party 
paper, for more comprehensive critiques of colonial policy generally. 

25. Jan Karl Tanenbaum, General Maurice Sarrail, 1856-1929: The French Army and 
Left-Wing Politics, p. 202. It is well established that Raynaud wanted Carbillet’s job 
and probably encouraged agitation against Carbillet and in favor of his own per- 
manent appointment. It is also clear that Sarrail knew this. 

26. See the Damascus newspapers al-Muqtabas, 17 July 1925, and AlifBa 1 , 14 July 
1925; Firro, A History of the Druzes, p. 284. 

27. MAE-Nantes, carton 551, personal letter from Martin to Dentz, Suwayda’, 
17 July 1925. Dentz was his successor as chief of the Service des Renseignements 
and later Vichy high commissioner in 1941. On the same day Martin sent an offl- 


Notes to Pages 56-59 

cial letter to the high commissioner’s delegate in Damascus, warning of imminent 
revolt. Reproduced in Henri de Kerillis, “Le Capitaine Raynaud: Gouverneur par 
interim des Druses previent vainement Sarrail,” L’Echo de Paris, 30 September 1925. 

28. Coblentz, The Silence of Sarrail, pp. 227-228. See also Journal OJfciel, Debats 
Senat, 17 December 1925, p. 1735; and Abi Rashid, Jabal al-duruz, p. 286. 

29. Coblentz, The Silence of Sarrail, p. 228. See the Damascus newspapers al- 
Muqtabas, 17 July 1925, and Alif Bd ’, 14 July 1925. Muqtabas, the nationalist paper 
published by Muhammad Kurd All, reported that they had been exiled for request- 
ing the replacement of Carbillet. 

30. Coblentz, The Silence of Sarrail, p. 229. 

31. ‘Ubayd, al-Thawra al-suriyya al-kubrd, p. 124. 

32. fo 371/4313, 13028/218, Smart to Chamberlain, 15 July 1925. Another account 
from Damascus, critical of Sarrail, is Alice Poulleau, A Damas sous les bombes: Jour- 
nal d’une Franfaise pendant la revolte syrienne, ig24~ig26, p. 43. It was difficult even 
for apologists of mandate rule to explain these tactics, but some managed; see An- 
drea, La revolte druze et I’insurrection de Damas, pp. 51-52. See Bouron, Les Druzes, 
p. 237, for a slightly more critical, and more detailed, account. 

33. ‘Ubayd, al-Thawra al-suriyya al-kubrd, pp. 125-126. 

34. Ibid. p. 125. ‘Ubayd translated a colloquial song into standard Arabic. I based 
my translation on the standard text. His father, ‘Ali ‘Ubayd, was there. See Faris, 
Man huwa f suriyya, p. 281 . 1 record my thanks to Lor Wood for help with poetry 
translation. Several privately published collections of poems and songs connected to 
the revolt exist and show the importance of this literary form in rural life — especially 
during uprisings. See al-Qaysi Nasr, Qabsdt min turath al-sha‘bi; al-Zaqut, Adwd’ 
‘ ala al-thawra al-suriyya al-kubrd; and ‘Ubayd, Ali ‘Ubayd rubabat al-thawra. 

35. MAE-Nantes, carton 551, No. 3. 617/E. D., “Renseignements sur la revoke 
druse,” p. 9, French translation; Bouron, Les Druzes, p. 238. 

36. See Bouron, Les Druzes, p. 239. ‘Ubayd has offered a less ideological interpre- 
tation: al-Thawra al-suriyya al-kubrd, p. 125. Bouron’s text matches exactly a secret 
French report prepared by Captain Desideri of the Service des Renseignements, 
Jabal Druze, in 1927. The intelligence report is lacking some of Bouron’s colonial 
mission advocacy but is clearly the principal source for his account, and some sec- 
tions are reproduced word for word. See MAE-Nantes, carton 551, No. 3.617/E.D., 
“Renseignements sur la revoke druse,” Desideri to Catroux, 18 October 1927, p. 10. 
For ‘Al! Mustafa al-Atrash, see Faris, Man huwa fi suriyya, p. 33; and Abi Ra- 
shid, Jabal al-duruz, p. 239; MAE-Nantes, carton 924, “Bayan maktab al-lajna al- 
markaziyya al-is‘af atfal al-sahra’ fi Bayrut, 1935.” 

37. MAE-Nantes, carton 551, No. 3.617/E.D., p. 10; Bouron, Les Druzes, p. 239; 
and ‘Ubayd, al-Thawra al-suriyya al-kubrd, p. 125. 

38. ‘Ubayd, al-Thawra al-suriyya al-kubrd, p. 126. These men would have been 
members of the al-Slut tribe of the Laja’a and Jabal. They had long-term commer- 

Notes to Page 59 


cial ties with the Druze based on pasture agreements and the supply of camel trans- 
port for Hawrani wheat to Damascus. 

39. 'Ubayd, al-Thawra al-suriyya al-kubra, p. 126; Firro, A History of the Druzes, 
p. 286. 

40. 'Ubayd, citing an interview with one of the Druze gendarmes who was there, 
claimed that the Normand column numbered nearly 300 and carried a number of 
automatic weapons. Among the column were a few French officers, no more than 
30 mounted troops, and about 10 Druze foot soldiers, who were locally called “par- 
tisan” (al-bartizan), with the remainder Tunisian colonial troops ( al-Thawra al- 
suriyya al-kubra, p. 125). Bouron claimed “une Compagnie d’Infanterie, et deux 
pelotons de Spahis Tunisiens,” or probably between 150 and 250 men ( Les Druzes, 
p. 241). 

41. Bouron mentions nothing about emissaries to Normand or negotiations but 
repeats a line from the intelligence report: “une fantasia guerriere se developpa . . . 
Soltan tenait son monde” ( Les Druzes, p. 240); and MAE-Nantes, carton 551, No. 
3. 617/E. D., p. 12. Andrea and the report offer a variation on the emissary story. 
They claim that the chief of the village of al-Kafr was a “friend of France” and 
alerted Normand that an attack was imminent, but Normand preferred to keep to 
his orders {La revolte druze et I’insurrection de Damas, pp. 52 and 12). The French ac- 
counts are marked by a persistent, and persistently successful, search for “friends of 
France”; compare note 32 above. See also fo 371/4310, 13028/235, Smart to Cham- 
berlain, 6 August 1925. Smart claimed, based on the stories of two Christians from 
al-Kharba, the village of Christian rebel leader 'Uqla al-Qutami, that the shaykh 
of al-Kafr, As'ad Murshid, insisted on providing food for the soldiers; while they 
were eating, the rebels attacked. Whether this is accurate or not, it is no surprise 
that treachery by a “friend of France” did not find its way into the French or Arab 

42. The numbers are a source of contention and vary widely. Munir al-Rayyis, a 
Damascene journalist who was not there but knew most of the leaders and was in- 
volved in later battles, wrote that the number of rebels (both on foot and mounted) 
was less than 250. He provides the most detailed account of the survivors, wounded, 
and dead among the mandate forces and claims that 8 escaped, 65 were wounded 
and left behind, and hi were killed. He also emphasizes the superior arms of the 
French, including light and heavy machine guns and grenades ( qddhifdt al-qanabil). 
See his al-Kitab al-dhahabi lil-thawrdt al-wataniyya fi al-rnashriq al-‘arabi, p. 165. 
Bouron, by contrast, claims that about 1,000 Druze attacked one company of foot 
soldiers and two squads of Tunisian cavalry, or approximately 150-250 men and offi- 
cers, and that they killed 120 Druze {Les Druzes, pp. 240-241); 'Ubayd, al-Thawra 
al-suriyya al-kubra, p. 129; Andrea, La revolte druze et V insurrection de Damas, p. 53. 
The right-wing Paris newspaper L’Echo de Paris, with unusually good military and 
Foreign Ministry sources, later claimed that 103 men and 4 officers were killed. Their 
numbers match al-Rayyis closely. See L’Echo de Paris, 2 September 1925. 

Notes to Pages 60-63 


43. Al-Rayyis, al-Kltab al-dhahabi, p. 167. 

44. ‘Ubayd, al-Thawra al-suriyya al-kubra , p. 129; Firro, A History of the Druzes, 
p. 286. 

45. fo 371/4310, 13028/225, Smart to Chamberlain, 25 July 1925. 

46. Ibid. 

47. Guha , Elementary Aspects of Peasant Insurgency, p. 251. Hewrote: “Onewould 
perhaps be quite justified in saying that rumour is both a universal and necessary 
carrier of insurgency in any pre-industrial, pre -literate society” (original emphasis). 
While mandate Syria was hardly “pre-literate,” it was pre-mass literacy, and a press 
blackout meant that literacy did not matter much. Obviously, rumor still functions 
today as the news source that authoritarian governments and military occupiers can- 
not control. 

48. Enclosure in fo 37/4310, 13028/225, 25 July 1925. A careful review of the 
French Diplomatic Archives Mandate and Great Revolt files in Nantes failed to 
turn up any of these pro-mandate testimonials from this period. Many later peti- 
tions exist, usually requesting government compensation for losses due to pillage or 
bombardment, from both rebels and colonial forces. See MAE-Nantes, carton 2389, 
“insurrection druze.” 

49. See Faris, Man huwa fi suriyya, p. 357. In 1925 the mandate census found that 
the qada’ (district) of Suwayda’ contained 30 villages, 14,740 Druze, 2,386 Greek 
Orthodox, 380 Greek Catholics, 192 Muslims, 16 Maronites, 26 Armenians, and 10 
Jews. MAE-Nantes, carton 2381, “Djebel Druze — situation generale.” 

50. Carbillet himself seems to have been the origin of this story. See MAE-Nantes, 
carton 892, No. 4571, Carbillet to delegue du haut-commissaire, 5 November 1923. 
'Uqla al-Qutami was imprisoned by the mandate authority in April 1925. MAE- 
Nantes, carton 406, “SECRET historique des negociations entreprises avec les 
druzes,” 8 September 1925. 

51. Both the rebels and foreign observers argued that inciting sectarian conflict 
was part of mandate policy for fighting the revolt. See U.S. Department of State, 
Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States, 1925, Beirut Consul Kna- 
benshue to Secretary of State, 16 November 1925, vol. 2 (Washington, D.C., 1940), 
p. 123. No less an observer than George Antonius noted this policy. See The Arab 
Awakening, p. 378. 

52. Letter from Hamad and Sultan al-Atrash to the Greek Orthodox Patriarch, 
MAE-Nantes, carton 1704, br 155, 28 August 1925, French translation. 

53. fo 371/4310, 13028/225, Smart to Chamberlain, 25 July 1925, 13028/226, 27 July 
1925, and 13028/229, 29 July 1925. See Lewis, Nomads a?td Settlers in Syria a?td Jor- 
dan, p. 94; and fo 371/4310, 13028/225, Smart to Chamberlain, 25 July 1925. French 
demographic figures concur. 

54. fo 371/4310, 13028/229, Smart to Chamberlain, 29 July 1925. 

55. MacCallum, The Nationalist Crusade in Syria, pp. 112-113. Cited in Khoury, 
Syria and the French Mandate, p. 157. 

Notes to Pages 63-69 


56. fo 371/4310, 13028/236, Smart to Chamberlain, 5 August 1925, and fo 371/ 
4310, 13028/240, Satow to Chamberlain, 7 August 1925. Major Aujac’s unit fit- 
ness report is reproduced in Henry Kerillis, “Le crime: Sarrail envoie au massacre 
le colonne Michaud,” L’Echo de Paris, 5 October 1925. Coblentz, Sarrail’s secre- 
tary, whose account was a direct response to Kerillis’ attacks on Sarrail, grudgingly 
vouched for the authenticity of this document, in The Silence of Sarrail, p. 235. Mac- 
Callum, The Nationalist Crusade in Syria, p. 119, ‘Ubayd, al-Thawra al-suriyya al- 
kubra, pp. 130-137; Abi Rashid, Jabal al-duruz, p. 240; Bennett J. Doty, The Legion 
of the Damned: The Adventures of Bennett J. Doty in the French Foreign Legion as Told 
by Himself, pp. 167-169. Henry Kerillis reported authoritatively that the French lost 
600 men and 40 officers killed, 420 wounded, to cannons (including two 75 mm 
and two 105 mm), 40 machine guns, 25,000 artillery rounds, and 1 million rounds 
of small arms ammunition. See L’Echo de Paris, 2 September 1925. The insurgents 
later went to some trouble to find former Ottoman artillery officers to operate their 
spoils (see Chapter 4). 


1. Reproduced in MAE-Nantes, carton 1704, br 140 Damas, 3 August 1925, 
French translation. 

2. Poulleau, A Damas sous les bombes, p. 54; FO 371/4310, 13028/246, 25 August 
1925; MAE-Nantes, carton 1704, br 140, 3 August 1925, “Sultan Atrache et la Tran- 
jordanies (autorites anglaises).” 

3. fo 371/4310, 13028/245, Smart to Chamberlain, 21 August 1925. 

4. MAE-Nantes, carton 1704, br 142, 6 August 1925. 

5. MAE-Nantes, carton 1704, br 149, 17 August 1925. See MAE-Nantes, carton 
1:593, "tracts divers,” for full coverage of the trial. The boys were tried and con- 
demned to death on 4 December 1925. Their sentences were later commuted to two- 
to three-year prison terms. 

6. fo 371/4310, 13028/245, Smart to Chamberlain, 21 August 1925, and dispatch 
13028/246, 25 August 1925. 

7. “The Revolt in Jabal Druse, Sharp Fighting, Reported French Reverse,” 
Times (London), 7 August 1925; Henry Kerillis, “Le crime: Sarrail envoie au mas- 
sacre le colonne Michaud,” L’Echo de Paris, 5 October 1925. 

8. Tanenbaum, General Maurice Sarrail , p. 204, especially note 88; MacCallum, 
The Nationalist Crusade in Syria, pp. 126-127; Abd al-Rahman al-Shahbandar, al- 
Thawra al-suriyya al-wataniyya: mudhakkirat al-duktur Abd al-Rahman al-Shah- 
bandar , p. 31. 

9. Gelvin concentrated on those opposed to Faysal between 1918 and 1920. Not 
all 1925 revolt participants were supporters of Faysal, of course, but many among 
the Druze and the Damascenes were. See Divided Loyalties. 

10. Khoury, Syria a?id the French Mandate, p. 144. 


Notes to Pages 63-74 

11. Shahbandar, Mudhakkirdt wa khutab, pp. 145-151. Speech for the opening 
ceremony of Hizb al-Sha'b, 5 June 1925. Summarized in Hisham A. Nashabi, “The 
Political Parties in Syria, 1918-1939,” pp. 95-96. Nashabi makes it clear that the 
party encompassed a wide range of opinion from accommodation to total rejection 
of the mandate. 

12. Khoury, Syria and the French Mandate , p. 123. 

13. Meetings took place at Shahbandar ’s house and at the house of Damascene 
merchants and journalists, including ‘Uthman al-Sharabati in Salihiyya: al-Rayyis, 
al-Kitab al-dhahabi, p. 191. For Sharabati, see Faris, Man huwafi suriyya, p. 228. 

14. Shahbandar, al-Thawra al-suriyya, p. 12. For al-Fayhd’, see Nadine Meouchy, 
“Les formes de conscience politique et communautaire au Liban et en Syrie a 
l’epoque du mandat franfais, 1920-1939,” Appendix 4. 

15. Shahbandar, al -Thawra al-suriyya , p. 13. Sa'id Haydar also recounted meet- 
ings before the revolt; see Nashabi, “The Political Parties in Syria,” p. 98. 

16. 'Abdallah Hanna is the exception. See his ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Shahbandar 
(1849-1940): Alam nahdawi wa rajal al-wataniyya wa al-tahtarur al-fikri (Damas- 
cus, 1989), pp. 57-58; Sultan al-Atrash, “Mudhakirrat Sultan,” part 98, p. 36; Abi 
Rashid, Hawran al-ddtniyya, pp. 408-409. Flawrdn al-ddmiyya is the sequel to his 
Jabal al-duruz. The 1961 editions have sequential pagination and are cited here. 
While there are extant 1925 editions of Jabal al-duruz , the 1926 edition of Flawrdn 
al-ddmiyya is very rare, and I have never seen a copy. The French were aware of 
these contacts too. See Andrea, La revolte druze et I’insurrection de Damas, p. 78. 

17. Abi Rashid, Jabal al-duruz , p. 252. See Chapter 3, note 8 above, for a full list of 
signatories. See also al-Atrash, “Mudhakkirat Sultan,” part 100, p. 35. The delega- 
tion and its aims of union with the state of Syria were also reported in the Damascus 
press. See MAE-Nantes, carton 892, “Journal Syrienne al-Ahrarf 27 May 1925. 

18. Abi Rashid, Jabal al-duruz , p. 257; Firro, A History of the Druzes, p. 282. 

19. Abi Rashid, Hawrdn al-ddmiyya, p. 408. 

20. Shahbandar quoted in ibid., p. 409. 

21. Zafir al-Qasimi, Watha’iq jadida ‘an al-thawra al-suriyya al-kubra, pp. 198- 

22. MAE-Nantes, carton 1704, br 145, 11 August 1925. For Lutfi al-Haffar, see 
Faris, Man huwafi suriyya, p. 118. 

23. Khoury, Syria and the French Mandate, p. 147. By mid-October 1925 the man- 
date government had shut down Hizb al-Wahda al-Suriyya too, since even the pup- 
pet party was becoming too independent. Of course, with the People’s Party out- 
lawed, there was no need for a loyal opposition. See fo 371/4310, 13028/275, Smart 
to Chamberlain, 12 October 1925. 

24. MAE-Nantes, carton 1704, br 139, 1 August 1925. 

25. MAE-Nantes, carton 1704, br 141, 5 August 1925. 

26. MAE-Nantes, carton 1704, br 142, 6 August 1925; mae Nantes, carton 1704, 
br 237, 1 December 1925, p. 5. 

Notes to Pages 74-79 


27. His cousin Munir al-Rayyis covered the arrests; see his al-Kitab al-dhahabi, 
p. 190. 

28. Firro, A History of the Druzes, pp. 288-289. 

29. MAE-Nantes, carton, 406, “SisCREThistorique des negotiations entreprises 
avec les druzes,” 8 September 1925, p. 4. Raynaud wrote a full report on the nego- 
tiations, including peace conditions of both sides and correspondence. The Druze 
delegation was Sulayman al-Atrash, Hayl Amr, Muhammad 'Izz al-Din al-Halabi, 
Fadl Allah Basha Hinaydi, and Sulayman Nassar. 

30. “SECRET historique des negotiations entreprises avec les druzes,” p. 4. 

31. Ibid., Annexe II, “Demandes du peuple Druze.” Abi Rashid, Hawran al- 
damiyya, pp. 418-419. 

32. Ibid., p. 7. 

33. Ibid., p. 9. Abi Rashid mentions him too; see Jabal al-duruz , p. 295. The 
French kept track of him later as well. He was probably named Weisil. See MAE- 
Nantes, carton 1704, br 160, 9 September 1925. 

34. “XECREThistorique des negotiations entreprises avec les druzes,” pp. 9 and 

35. MAE-Nantes, carton 1704, br 152, 21 August 1925, “Rassemblements aux 
points d’eau.” 

36. Shahbandar, al-Thawra al-suriyya, pp. 32-34; 'Ubayd, al-Thawra al-suriyya 
al-kubra , p. 139; Nashabi, “The Political Parties in Syria,” p. 102. Munir al-Rayyis 
expressed his exasperation with some Damascene nationalists who were not mem- 
bers of the People’s Party. He reported talking with his cousin Najib al-Rayyis: “I 
was angry with the Syrian nationalists who were not working ... to spread the re- 
volt, and turn the revolt in the Jabal from a local Druze uprising into a complete 
nationalist revolution, directed to the independence of Syria — not merely to ex- 
change one governor for another” ( al-Kitab al-dhahabi, p. 186). 

37. Al-Jundi, Tarikh al-thawrdt al-suriyya. See p. 507 forTawfiq al-Halabi (1887- 
1926), p. 478 for Zaki al-Durubi (1888-1939). Sultan al-Atrash mentioned that both 
fled the Ottoman government and stayed in Jabal Hawran during the war. See 
“Mudhakkirat Sultan,” part 98, p. 36. 

38. Abi Rashid, Hawran al-damiyya, pp. 408-409; al-Atrash, “Mudhakkirat Sul- 
tan,” part 98, p. 36. He claimed to have been in continuous contact with Damascene 
nationalists since 1918. 

39. 'Ubayd, al-Thawra al-suriyya al-kubrd, p. 139 (original exclamation point). 

40. fo 371/4310, 13028/250, Smart to Chamberlain, 29 August 1925. 

41. MAE-Nantes, carton 1585. Bell to Secretariat of the High Commissioner for 
Iraq, 3 November 1925, “SECRET: The Syrian Situation and Its Bearings on ‘Iraq,” 
p. 6. She had returned from a short visit during which she spoke with Service des 
Renseignements head Dentz and various Syrian nationalists. 

42. fo 371/4310, 13028/329, Smart to Chamberlain, 9 November 1925. 


Notes to Pages 80-84 

43. MAE-Nantes, carton 1704, br 152, 21 August 1925, “mouvements des rebelles.” 

44. “SECRET historique des negotiations entreprises avec les druzes,” Annexe 
VI, 23 August 1925, letter from Sultan al-Atrash to Captain Raynaud. Coblentz 
claimed that Raynaud eventually admitted that Sultan al-Atrash had duped him: 
The Silence of Sarrail, p. 223. 

45. fo 371/4310, 13028/231, Consul-General Beirut to Chamberlain, telegraph, 
12 August 1925: “Following from liaison officer for Air Ministry: ‘French are taking 
no further offensive action against Druses for at least ten days’”; and dispatch 
13028/234, telegraph, 17 August 1925: “‘French still endeavouring to settle Druse 
trouble amicably. Rebels yesterday handed over one French officer prisoner and 
fifty-three men. Rebels no longer firing at French aeroplanes.’ ” 

46. Faris, Man huwa fi suriyya, p. 129; MAE-Nantes, carton 406, “Armee Frangaise 
du Levant, Commandement des troupes de la region de Damas, SECRET: Listes 
des chefs de Djebel Druze,” 24 December 1925. Hayl ‘Amr is listed there and in 
Faris, Man huwafi suriyya , pp. 272-273. 

47. F0371/4310, 13028/250, Smart to Chamberlain, 29 August 1925; MAE-Nantes, 
carton 1704, br 153, 26 August 1925. Some French sources claimed the rebels num- 
bered as many as 15,000. See Tanenbaum, General Maurice Sarrail \ p. 204. 

48. MAE-Nantes, carton 1704, br 153, 26 August 1925; fo 371/4310, 13028/250, 
Smart to Chamberlain, 29 August 1925. For panic in Damascus, see Poulleau, A 
Damas sous les bombes , p. 55. 

49. MAE-Nantes, carton 1704, br 155, 28 August 1925; printed without the final 
paragraph. It turns up in a number of places and was probably first published in the 
Cairo newspapers in late August 1925. It was published in translation in the Paris 
newspaper of the Communist Party, L'Humanite, on 9 September 1925. It appears 
in slightly abridged form in the League of Nations archives, Permanent Mandates 
Commission, minutes of the Eighth Session, Appendix 12, pp. 191-192, in English 
translation with the final paragraph; and the fo archives, fo 371/5273, vol. 10851, 
Damascus to fo, 25 August 1925. Supposedly it made its way into newspapers in 
North and South America, though I have not seen these examples. It has appeared, 
sometimes considerably abridged, in many histories of the revolt in Arabic. See al- 
Qaysi Nasr, Qabsdt mm turath al-sha‘bi, p. 120; and al-Bi‘ayni,/fl^«/ al-‘arab, Ap- 
pendix 34, pp. 43 6 -437- 

50. MAE-Nantes, carton 1704, br 157, 31 August 1925. Although Sami al-Sarraj 
appears rarely in Great Revolt sources, he had been around and causing problems 
for the French for some time. He participated in Hananu’s revolt and organized 
resistance to the French occupation of Aleppo. See al-Jundi, Tarikh al-thavorat al- 
suriyya, p. 262; Gelvin, Divided Loyalties, pp. 59, 84, 134, and 218. Gelvin gives Sarraj 
credit for introducing rhetorical militancy to the political discourse in the waning 
days of Faysal’s government. 

51. MAE-Nantes, carton 1704, br 154, 27 August 1925. A band of bedouin at- 

Notes to Pages 84-88 

V 5 

tacked and robbed a three-wagon French caravan carrying Oriental carpets on the 
road to Beirut. Considering that the carpets were probably made by bedouin, it is 
a particularly concrete example of reclaiming the symbolic patrimony. 

52. MAE-Nantes, carton 1704, br 154, 27 August 1925. 

53. Lewis, Nomads and Settlers in Syria and Jordan , p. 203. 

54. MAE-Nantes, carton 1704, br 154, 27 August 1925, French translation. It be- 
gins with a call to God to protect them and give them victory. It is signed: “Sayah 
Ben Ali, Nemr Abu Oukl, Mechane Eljeneiki, JarouBen Sarta, Meragh El Kaakaa 
[sic], ainsi que tous les Rouallahs vous saluent.” 

55. MAE-Nantes, br 163, 8 September 1925. 

56. Al-Rayyis, al-Kitdb al-dhahabi, pp. 190-191; fo 371/4310, 13028/251, Smart 
to Chamberlain, 29 August 1925; Nashabi, “The Political Parties in Syria,” p. 103. 

57. MAE-Nantes, carton 1704, br 157, 31 August 1925; “L’extension de la revolte,” 
L’Echo de Paris, 12 September 1925. 

58. This was the location of the massive demonstrations of April 1922 over the 
earlier arrests of Shahbandar and other nationalist leaders. See Khoury, Syria and 
the French Mandate, pp. 123-124. It has remained a focal point of public protest in 
Damascus. The first Asad government opened a square in front of the mosque for 
crowd control during the Islamist rebellion of the early 1980s. 

59. MAE-Nantes, br 156, 29 August 1925; fo 371/4310, 13028/251, 29 August 1925. 
See Poulleau, A Damas sous les bombes, pp. 58-59. She wrote that some of the good 
ladies of the al-Salihiyya neighborhood spoke at the demonstration for liberty and 
called on France to make good on its claims of liberalism and enlightenment. In 
the following days, Shahbandar ’s wife organized women’s protest marches in Da- 


1. MAE-Nantes, carton 1704, br 159, 2 September 1925, “Attitude de Mme. 
Shahbandar.” This report came from the testimony of a Mme. Adib Affandi Arab 
‘Uqla, who passed it on to the intelligence service. 

2. MAE-Nantes, carton 1704, br 161, 4 September 1925, and br 162, 5 Septem- 
ber 25. 

3. MAE-Nantes, carton 1704, br 164, 9 September 1925. The meeting of 7 Sep- 
tember brought together thirty-seven women at the house of Mme. 'Uthman al- 
Sharabati. The conversations at the women’s meetings were far more inflammatory 
than the conversations at the men’s meetings recorded in intelligence reports be- 
fore the arrests. The women discussed the valor of the fighters in the countryside, 
the readiness for patriotic martyrdom, and the work of bringing the rebellion to all 
of the country. It bears mention that women’s discussion groups remain an impor- 
tant aspect of Syrian urban culture. 

4. MAE-Nantes, carton 1704, br 159, 2 September 1925, French translation of a 

Notes to Pages 88-go 


tract from al-Qunaytra. At the same time another tract signed by Sultan al-Atrash 
appeared in Damascus. 

5. MAE-Nantes, carton 1704, br 160, 3 September 1925. 

6. MacCallum, The Nationalist Crusade in Syria , p. 126. French agents were ac- 
cused of raising Christian Assyrian refugees in Iraq for use as shock troops in Syria. 
Secret British report from Henry Dobbs, The Residency, Baghdad, to Colonial Sec- 
retary, 15 September 1926, in MAE-Nantes, carton 1585, “M Documents” [Mosul]. 
He reported that recruiters were signing up to twenty people per day to fight in 

7. Most of the informants for French intelligence in Hawran seem to have been 
Muslim shaykhs who took part in insurgent meetings. There is no doubt that these 
men, with clear fears of both Druze and mandate depredations, were playing their 
traditional roles and working to make the most of their historically weak position 
vis-a-vis the state and the Druze. See, for example, MAE-Nantes, carton 1704, br 
169, 16 September 1925, report of occasional agent Haj Musa [al-Hani], shaykh of 
Busra al-Sham. Dr. Fandi Abu Fakhr has documents in his possession dating from 
as far back as the 1850s signed by Isma'il al-Atrash among other Druze shaykhs, 
and including a few Hawrani shaykhs, that show clearly the historical roots of this 
tension. One peace treaty reads in part: “A session took place between the shaykhs 
to deal with problems between them and the Hawrani . . . There will be no sanc- 
tuary [al-wasiy al-dakhil] in cases of kidnapping of brides . . . We have common 
elements in that we are all the same before God . . . Our worries and their worries 
are one, and our interests and their interests are one . . . We affirm that no Druze 
shaykh has the right to remove any Hawrani shaykh from his village, or to assign 
a shaykh, because the Hawranis know their own business . . .” This was witnessed 
by seventeen Druze shaykhs and two Hawrani shaykhs. Even before the massive 
Druze migrations of the 1860s, it speaks volumes about the balance of power in 
Hawran. Reproduced in Abu Fakhr, Tarikh liwa’ hawran al-ijtimai , pp. 222-223. 

8. MAE-Nantes, carton 1704, br 160, 3 September 1925, French translation of 
a “tract widespread in Beirut.” Also found in MAE-Nantes, carton 1593, “tracts 

9. MAE-Nantes, carton 1893, “tracts divers,” numerous copies. Final Service des 
Renseignements report, No. 2304, D.D. 2, 8 September 1925. Notices appeared in 
Hamah about that time too. The Hamah tract struck a different tone than those of 
Damascus and mixed Muslim religious language with calls to support the cause of 
independence and the brothers of the Jabal Druze (MAE-Nantes, carton 1704, br 
162, 5 September 1925, French translation). 

10. MAE-Nantes, carton 1593, “tracts divers,” Beirut, 9 September 1925, French 

11. MAE-Nantes, carton 1704, br 159, 2 September 1925. 

12. Damascenes and others present included Jamil Mardam Bek, Nasib, Fawzi, 

Notes to Pages 90-93 


and As'ad al-Bakri, Zaki Zaybak, Shaykh [Muhammad] Abu Abdu al-Hijaz from 
Maydan with thirty horsemen, Shahbandar, Hasan al-Hakim, Hasan Agha al- 
Kurdi with five horsemen, Salim al-Khatib (a Druze from Jaramana), Salim ‘Ubayd 
(a Druze from Jaramana), and Yahya al-Hayati, along with five other unnamed 
former officers (MAE-Nantes, carton 1704, br 163, 8 September 1925). The source 
was Damascus Security, submitted by “tres serieux notable du Midan.” He would 
have been a paid spy. It bears emphasis that the story of discord between the Druze 
and Damascenes and of Hashemite and Anglo intrigue was precisely what the 
French wanted to hear. 

13. MAE-Nantes, carton 1704, br 163, 8 September 1925. The Service des Ren- 
seignements later intercepted a letter from Rikabi to his brother Ahmad in Damas- 
cus, in which he stated with studied obliqueness that Ahmad should not believe 
the lies against him in the (pro-mandate) press in Damascus and that he and Amir 
'Abdallah agreed that they (the French, the rebels, or both?) could not disrupt the 
country (MAE-Nantes, carton 1704, br 176, 24 September 1925, French translation). 

14. Qarqut reproduced the letters describing punishment for informers in his 
Tatawwur al-harakat al-wataniyya ft suriyya, p. 270, 2 February 1926. For Husni 
Sakhr, see Faris, Man huwa ft suriyya , p. 255. 

15. MAE-Nantes, carton 1704, br 166, 12 September 1925, reported a cannon posi- 
tioned near Suwayda’ citadel; br 167, 14 September, gave exact positions. Zaki al- 
Durubi, who had been an Ottoman and Sharifian artillery officer, went back and 
forth between Hawran and Damascus at this time. See Chapter 4 and al-Jundi, 
Tarikh al-thawrat al-suriyya, p. 478, for Zaki al-Durubi. 

16. fo 371/4310, 13028 / 258, Smart to Chamberlain, 18 September 1925. 

17. MAE-Nantes, carton 1704, br 169, 16 September 1926. 

18. fo 371/4310, 13028/256, Satow to Chamberlain, 8 September 1925. “The re- 
call of General Michaud and his replacement by General Gamelin is considered to 
be a severe blow to General Sarrail. It appears to be correct that the change was 
made without consulting the High Commissioner, who has persisted in regarding 
General Michaud as an officer of merit” (Coblentz, The Silence of Sarrail, p. 237). 

19. MAE-Nantes, carton 1704, br 169, 16 September 1925, report of occasional 
agent Haj Musa [al-Hani, shaykh of Busra al-Sham]. 

20. MAE-Nantes, carton 924, “rebelles refugies,” “Djebel Druze,” No. 221, 7 Janu- 
ary 1925. 

21. John Henry Harvey, With the Foreign Legion in Syria, p. 157. 

22. Doty, The Legion of the Damned, p. 119. See Harvey, With the Foreign Legion 
in Syria. 

23. Harvey recounts pillaging and burning a village and murdering the inhabi- 
tants for refusing to pay taxes. See With the Foreign Legiott in Syria, p. 159. 

24. MAE-Nantes, carton 2389, “Expose de la situation des sinistres de Djebel 
Druze,” n.d. (approximately September 1925), in original French. See also Niqulaws 


Notes to Pages 93-96 

al-Qadi, Arbaun c aman ft hawrdn wa jabal al-duruz. Qarqut reproduced the let- 
ters describing punishment for informers in his Tatawwur al-harakat al-wataniyya 
fi suriyya , p. 280. For Husni Sakhr, see Faris, Man huwafi suriyya , p. 255. 

25. Doty, The Legion of the Damned ', p. 115; 'Ubayd, al-Thawra al-suriyya al- 
kubra, p. 143. 

26. ‘Ubayd, al-Thawra al-suriyya al-kubra , pp. 144-145. 

27. Andrea, La revolte druze et Tinsurrection de Damas, p. 61 ; MAE-Nantes, carton 
1704, br 171, 18 September 1925. The Service des Renseignements reported more 
than 2,000 Druze rebels in the attack. The next day’s intelligence report reported 
both 1,500 and 5,000 rebels in the attack, in alternating parts of the bulletin. A 
contemporary reader, probably the Damascus delegate to the High Commission, 
M. Aubourd, pointed out the discrepancy in hand notations (br 172, 19 September 

28. Doty, The Legion of the Damned, pp. 119-120. Harvey mentions a French offi- 
cer who went into a frenzy and murdered several shackled “Druze” prisoners with 
his pistol and saber ( With the Foreign Legion in Syria, pp. 165-166). 

29. See MAE-Nantes, carton 894, Service des Renseignements, No. 3000, 7 July 
1926; and “armee, police, legion syrienne.” See also Francis A. Waterhouse, 'Twixt 
Hell and Allah (London: Sampson Low, 1933). This book purports to be a Foreign 
Legionnaire’s account of the revolt of 1925. Unlike the other two, it is a fictional fake. 

30. fo 371/4310, 13028/261, Smart to Chamberlain, 29 September 1925; Andrea, 
La revolte druze et Tinsurrection de Damas, p. 65. 

31. MAE-Nantes, carton 1704, br 183, 3 October 1925, “demande de soumission,” 
letters of submission enclosed. They were principally members of the ‘Amr, Hu- 
naydi, and Nasr families. 

32. “Soueida est delivree,” L’Echo de Paris, 25 September 1925. 

33. See MAE-Nantes, carton 1704, br 164, 9 September 1925, “O Syrian People, 
Why are you resigned to remain in darkness? Awake from your slumber . . . [signed] 
the party of [female] revolutionaries,” French translation. By this time it was clear 
that Damascenes would have to lead themselves out of the metaphorical darkness 
of mandate rule. With a few exceptions, their nationalist leaders were already out- 
side the country, trying to raise financial and military help. 

34. The “compact minorities” are generally held to be the rural heterodox sects 
in Syria, including the Druze, the ‘Alawis, and the Isma'ilis. Anthropologists and 
others have viewed them as insular and uninterested in larger political issues. It is 
usually argued that their defining characteristic is an effort to stay aloof from out- 
side conflict and only ally themselves with outsiders when absolutely necessary. 

35. MAE-Nantes, carton 1704, br 182, 2 October 1925, “rapport d’informateur.” 

36. Fawzi al-Qawuqji, Mudhakkirat Fawzi al-Qawuqji, ed. Khayriyya Qasi- 
miyya, pp. 15-20; also al-Jundi, Tdrikh al-thawrdt al-suriyya, pp. 553-554. While 
Qawuqji’s contention that the Unionist coup fostered Turkish linguistic domina- 

Notes to Pages 56-99 


tion is familiar, other evidence suggests that the situation in parts of the imperial 
bureaucracy was more complicated. For example, I spent two years reading the late 
Ottoman cadastral and land tax records of the muhafaza of Damascus at the Gen- 
eral Directorate for the Administration of Immovable Property in Damascus. In 
these bureaucratic records, the language on the printed form and of the assessor’s 
notations changed from Turkish to Arabic about two years after the revolution. 

37. al-Qawuqji, Mudhakkirat , p. 102. His friends and fellow officers in Hamah 
included Sa'id Tarmanini, Abd al-Salam al-Farji, Muhammad 'All and Tahir 
al-Daghastani, and Abd al-Qadir Maysir. Munir al-Rayyis makes clear that, 
apart from patriotic reasons, Qawuqji had powerful personal grievances against his 
French masters in Hamah. They were racists and treated him with persistent dis- 
respect. See al-Kitab al-dhahabi, p. 206. 

38. al-Qawuqji, Mudhakkirat , p. 104. He first published his memoirs with the 
help of Dr. Khayriyya Qasimiyya in 1975. The earlier writing is in the introduc- 
tion to al-As, Safahat, p. 9. See also Abi Rashid, Hawrdn al-ddmiyya, “al-Qawuqji 
yasifu thawra hamah,” pp. 479-482. 

39. al-Rayyis, al-Kitdb al-dhahabi , p. 207. 

40. al-Qawuqji, Mudhakkirat, p. 107. He apparently knew something of the spy 
network and how many insurgent letters and notices were ending up in French 
hands. Al-Jundi recounts the same story; see Tarikh al-thawrat al-suriyya, p. 201. 

41. For Siba'i, see al-Jundi, Tarikh al-thawrat al-suriyya, p. 324. For Rayyis, see 
Faris, Man huwafi suriyya, p. 178; also al-Rayyis, al-Kitab al-dhahabi, and the same 
title with the following subtitles: Thawra filistin ‘am i)j6 and Harb al- ‘irdq ‘am 11)41 
(Beirut, 1976 and 1978, respectively). 

42. Introduction to al-As, Safahat, p. 10. The plan to plunder the banks and gov- 
ernment offices does not appear in Qawuqji’s later memoirs. 

43. MAE-Nantes, carton 1704, br 183, 3 October 1925. “Muslim public opinion in 
Hamah continues to manifest sympathy for the Druze. The campaign of the hostile 
nationalist party had incontestably won the terrain.” See Qawuqji’s introduction to 
al-As, Safahat; and Abd al-Rahman Shahbandar’s various publications, including 
Mudhakkirat wa khutub and al-Qaddyd al-ijtimd‘iyya al-kubra fi al-‘dlam al-‘arabi. 

44. MAE-Nantes, carton 1704, br 184, 5 October 1925. 

45. For late Ottoman Hamah and the estates of these families, see DickDouwes, 
The Ottomans in Syria: A History of Justice and Oppression. 

46. Qawuqji refused to name these people apart from identifying them as mem- 
bers of the Barazi family; introduction to al-As, Safahat, p. 10. 

47. MAE-Nantes, carton 1704, br 185, 6 October 1925, 15I1.30. Two companies of 
troops totaled no more than 250 second-line troops. Despite the self-congratulatory 
tone of the dispatch of that evening, they could never have regained Hamah with- 
out significant additional reinforcements. “Une detente marquee a ete observee a 
Hama apres l’arrivee des 2 Compagnies de renfort de RAYAK et de ALER La fu- 
sillade a cesse dans la ville.” 


Notes to Pages 99-101 

48. Introduction to al-As, Scifahat, p. 15. Lenka Bokova makes a similar argument 
in her fine book La confrontation franco-syrienne a I’epoque du mandat, 1925-25, p. 205. 

49. Bukova, La confrontation franco-syrienne d I’epoque du mandat, p. 205. 

50. MAE-Nantes, carton 1704, br 189, to October 1925, “Opinion publique de 

51. fo 371/4310, 13028/268, 10 October 1925. British consul Smart quoted Soule 
from a personal conversation a few evenings before. Soule was the officer who, after 
approval from Sarrail and Gamelin, gave the order to shell Damascus. Additional 
evidence indicates that the military command sought an excuse to bomb the capi- 
tal. See Poulleau, A Damas sous les bombes , p. 81. 

52. al-As, Safahat, pp. 35-36. He stresses that one of the officers managed to kill 
a rebel but that the rebels did not avenge the death because the officer was a pris- 
oner: “To kill a prisoner is a shameful thing to the Arabs” (al-Rayyis, al-Kitdb al- 
dhahabi, pp. 288-289; fo 371/4310, 13028/266, Smart to Chamberlain, 10 October 
1925). A less colorful, and less amused, version appears in MAE-Nantes, carton 1704, 
br 188, 9 October 1925. See also the report of one of the captured officers: MAE- 
Nantes, carton 1704, br 213, 7 November 1925, “Declaration de Rafic Bey al-Azm, 
Capitaine de Gendarmerie a Damas, capture 5/10/25 a Meiha par les bandits.” 

53. fo 371/4310, 13028/266, Smart to Chamberlain, 10 October 1925. 

54. al-As, Safahat, p. 31. Munir al-Rayyis echoed some of these criticisms of 
Kharrat, though he never made the Bakri-Kharrat link. See Kitdb al-dhahabi, pp. 
37 I_ 37 2 > f° r example. 

55. MAE-Nantes, carton 1704, br 191, 13 October 1925, “La Bande Akkache ope- 
rant sur la route Damas-Beyrouth.” By the middle of October 1925, Sa'id Akash 
already had been sentenced to fifteen years in prison. It soon became a death sen- 
tence; but he was never caught, though he was murdered — probably as revenge for 
his actions during the revolt — in the center of Damascus in 1941. 

56. See Adnan al- Attar, Thawrat al-huriyya f al-mintiqa al-sddisa bi-dimasq 
1925-1926 wadi barada wa al-muhajirin wa al-salihiyya. This is a privately published 
book by the grandson of Sa'id 'Akash. The centrality of Dummar as homeland is 
clear. The writer also had a display memorializing his grandfather and relatives in 
the 1925 revolt at the Damascus National Document Festival (Ma'rid al-Tawthiq 
al-Qawmi) in 1999. In 2000 his display was absent, and employees informed me 
that it had not been included because it was not a good example of the national- 
ist struggle. It is worth mentioning that this kind of book is only available today 
through the efforts of relatives. The grandson of Sa'id al-As is responsible for the 
republication of his memoir, Safahat min al-ayyam al-hamra’, first published in 1935. 
Al-As, in uneasy contrast, has stronger but equally troubling nationalist creden- 
tials from the perspective of the current Syrian government. Antun Sa'ada, leader 
of the militantly secular Greater Syria party, the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (al- 
Hizb al-Suri al-Qawmi al-Ijtima'i), considered Sa'id al-As the first posthumous 

Notes to Pages 102-104 


nationalist saint of the party. This party has been outlawed in Syria for forty years, 
and these books are banned there. See Antun Sa'ada’s introduction, “Dhikra al- 
rafiq Sa'id al-'As,” in al-'As, al-Tajarib al-harbiyya. This was published under party 
auspices from unpublished manuscripts. Sa'id al-'As was killed fighting the British 
and Zionists in Palestine in 1936. 

57. The boy’s name was Bashir al-Hunaydi, from al-Malayha. See al-'As, Safahat, 
p. 35. Al-'As is strangely silent on the atrocities committed by French troops. He 
calls the operation in the Ghuta a success for the rebels, which from a purely mili- 
tary standpoint perhaps it was. Doubtless, as he points out, the operations swelled 
the rebel ranks, if only because the French had destroyed the homes and livelihoods 
of so many peasants (p. 38). 

58. MAE-Nantes, carton 1704, br 191, 13 October 1925; fo 371/4310, 13028/28, 
Smart to Chamberlain, 15 October 1925; Poulleau, A Damas sous les bombes, p. 76. 
Poulleau describes in horrifying detail the spectacle of the dead in Marja Square, as 
all the high civilian and military officials of the mandate government in Damascus 

59. “Un splendide tableau de chasse,” quoted in Poulleau, A Damas sous les bombes , 
pp. 80-81; “Parade of Corpses,” Times (London), 27 October 1925. 

60. Fakhri al-Kharrat quoted them as declaring on behalf of Jaramana: “We have 
to avenge the death of our women violated and murdered by the troops [text cut out] 
women soaked in their own blood. If these crimes remain unpunished, farewell to 
the honor of the BaniMa'ruf” (MAE-Nantes, carton 1704, br 200, 23 October 1925). 

61. The Service des Renseignements compiled a minute-by-minute record of the 
uprising and bombardment of Damascus. See MAE-Nantes, carton 1704, br 196, br 
197, br 198, br 199, 19, 20, 21, and 22 October 1925, for the events between 18 and 
21 October 1925. 

62. MAE-Nantes, carton 1704, br 200, 23 October 1925, “Declarations du nomme 
Fakhri Ben Hassan Kharat.” 

63. fo 371/4310, 13028/303, Smart to Chamberlain, 25 October 1925. French offi- 
cials claimed doggedly that the bombardment was the only thing that had prevented 
a general massacre of Christians and foreigners. See fo 371/4310, 13028/305, May- 
ers to Chamberlain, 30 October 1925, U.S. Department of State, Papers Relating to 
the Foreign Relations of the United States , 1925, Knabenshue to Secretary of State, 
19 October 1925, vol. 2, p. 108. 

64. fo 371/4310, 13028/303, Smart to Chamberlain, 25 October 1925; “Damascus 
Riots, the Full Story, City Shelled for 48 Hours, Famous Places Destroyed,” Times , 
27 October 1925. French authorities evidently claimed that the bombardment was 
less intensive than it was. Most sources indicate the shelling began about 5 p.m., 
Sunday, 18 October, but the otherwise exhaustive French minute-by-minute chro- 
nology places the beginning almost exactly twenty-four hours later. It seems that 
the French sought to create evidence for the claim that the first day of bombardment 


Notes to Pages 104-107 

began with the widely reported blank shells, for the obvious reason of deflecting 
criticism of French barbarity. The report listed only those times when confirmed 
live ammunition was used. British consul Smart disputed this and wrote: “In various 
European press reports it is stated that on Sunday, the 18th of October, only blank 
shells were fired at the town of Damascus, and that the bombardment of live shells 
only began on Monday the 19th of October. A very palpable proof of the inaccu- 
racy of this statement is a large fragment of a shell now in my possession, which fell 
into a drawing-room of the Irish Presbyterian School at 6 p.m. Sunday the 18th of 
October, i.e., less than half an hour after the beginning of the bombardment” (fo 
371/4310, 13028/317, Smart to Chamberlain, 7 November 1925). See MAE-Nantes, 
carton 1704, br 197, 20 October 1925, “19/10/25 Un officier revenant de la 
citadelle signale le bombardement [text cut] partie de Souk est en feu. Resultat du 
bombardement, tres effectif. Le bombardement continue methodiquement.” 

65. Khoury, Syria and the French Mandate , p. 178. The commercial heart of Da- 
mascus between the Suq al-Hamidiyya and Suq Tawil (Straight Street) was utterly 
destroyed; and when it was rebuilt even the streets were redrawn. It stands out in 
the old city of today by its gridlike streets and modern buildings and retains the 
name it gained in 1925: al-Hariqa (Great Fire). 

66. Approximately $10 million in 2005. Damages to Damascus were estimated 
at twenty times this amount, $200 million. For weights and exchanges, see Sev- 
ket Pamuk, “Money in the Ottoman Empire, 1326-1914,” in Suraiya Faroqhi et al., 
eds., An Economic and Social History of the Ottoman Empire, Volume Two, 1600-11)14 
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), p. 972. My rough conversion is 
based on admittedly variable gold values. 

67. MAE-Nantes, carton 1704, br 198, 21 October 1925. 

68. Faris, Man huwa fi suriyya, p. 92; Schilcher, Families in Politics, p. 215; Tomeh, 
“Landownership and Political Power in Damascus,” Appendix Table A-n. At the 
time of land expropriation in 1958, they owned 5,261 hectares of agricultural land, 
mostly in the muhafaza of Hawran and the mintaqa of Dar'a. By 1958 they had been 
selling off land for decades in Palestine but also in Syria. 

69. Gelvin, Divided Loyalties, pp. 26-27; FO 371/4310, 13028/235, SECRET, 
Smart to Chamberlain, 9 November 1925. This report is some of the strongest evi- 
dence available that the British were intriguing against France or at least entertain- 
ing the fancy of those who were intriguing against France’s mandate. 

70. See MAE-Nantes, carton 1704, br 200, 23 October 1925, “Declarations du 
nomme Fakhri Ben Hassan Kharrat.” 

71. Al-'As, Safahat, pp. 38-41; MacCallum, The Nationalist Crusade in Syria, 
p. 139. Khoury, examining some of the same sources, comes to similar conclusions 
but gives Nasib al-Bakri more credit for acting decisively: Syria and the French Man- 
date, pp. 176 and 180. 

72. For the Mahayni family, see al-Jundi, Tarikh al-thawrat al-suriyya, pp. 475- 

Notes to Pages 108-117 


477; Faris, Man huwafi suriyya, pp. 431-432; and Schilcher, Families in Politics., pp. 
150-151. Tomeh demonstrated that the Mahayni family owned no significant agri- 
cultural land at mid-century. See his “Landownership and Political Power in Da- 
mascus,” Tables A- 1 through A- 27. 


1. fo 371/4310, 13128/193, Damascus Consul Smart to Foreign Minister Cham- 
berlain, 28 January 1926. 

2. fo 371/4310, 13028/330, Smart to Chamberlain, 10 November 1925; mae- 
Nantes, br 211, 5 November 1925; also al-Jundi, Tdrikh al-thawrat al-suriyya, p. 205. 
Abd al-Qadir Sukkar and Subhi al-Mahayni were both grain merchants and both 
later joined the insurgents in the Ghuta. Members of both families had long been 
involved in popular nationalist agitation in their quarter of Maydan. These fami- 
lies had been involved in the Hawran and Jabal Hawran grain trade since the mid- 
nineteenth century. See Gelvin, Divided Loyalties. 

3. MAE-Nantes, carton 1704, br 241, 5 December 1925, SR Damas, gendarmerie 

4. Gelvin, Divided Loyalties, pp. 111-112, 116. 

5. al-Jundi, Tdrikh al-thawrat al-suriyya, pp. 536-537. 

6. MAE-Nantes, carton 1704, br 241, 5 December 1925, French translation. I have 
generally translated these letters from French translation except when Arabic origi- 
nals were available. I list some details here. For watan, the French is usually ren- 
dered patrie, which I have rendered as homeland. For mujahid, the French is either 
combattant or mujahid; I have retained the Arabic. For tha’ir, the French is usually 
revolutionnaire; I have used insurgent or rebel. Syrian contemporaries usually called 
the revolt the Thawra Suriyya al-Wataniyya or Syrian Patriotic Revolution. 

7. MAE-Nantes, carton 1704, br 243, 7 December 1925, annexe 1, French trans- 

8. MAE-Nantes, carton 1704, br 243, 7 December 1925, annexe 3, French trans- 

9. Ted Swedenburg, Memories of Revolt: The igj 6 -ipj<) Rebellion and the Pales- 
tinian National Past, pp. 30-31. 

10. MAE-Nantes, carton 1704, br 243, 7 December 1925, pp. 4-7. 

11. MAE-Nantes, carton 1704, br 210, 4 November 1925. It was ironic that intel- 
ligence officers could describe people with such obviously wide appeal as no more 
than bandits and common criminals, usually in the same report. 

12. MAE-Nantes, carton 1704, br 213, 7 November 1925. This report was con- 
firmed by interviews with elderly Christian villagers, including Wadi' al-Ma'ri, 87- 
year-old former mukhtar (headman) of Saydnaya, 10 August 2002. His father was 
mukhtar during 1925. 

13. MAE-Nantes, carton 1704, br 241, 5 December 1925, annexe 1, French trans- 


Notes to Pages 117-121 

14. Faris, Man huwa fi suriyya, p. 248. 

15. MAE-Nantes, carton 1704, br 241, 5 December 1925, annexe 1, French trans- 

16. Rogan, “A§iret Mektebi,” Table 1, p. 89; al-As, Safahat, p. 109; Abi Rashid, 
Jabal al-duruz, pp. 299-300. 

17. MAE-Nantes, carton 1704, br 200, 23 October 1925, “Declarations du nomme 
Fakhri Ben Hassan Kharat.” The Damascus daily press reported his public exe- 
cution in January 1926 along with those of several other men. See “Mahalliyya: 
muhakama Fakhri al- Kharrat,” al-Muqtabas, 29 January 1926. 

18. MAE-Nantes, carton 1704, br 243, 7 December 1925, French translation. 

19. MAE-Nantes, carton 1593, “tracts divers,” 4 February 1926, “Lettre de menace 
adressee par HASSAN KHARRAT a AMINE MAMLOUK, Grec orthodoxe,” 
French translation. For Kharrat ’s death, see al-Jundi, Tarikh al-thawrat al-suriyya, 
p. 358. It is unclear why this letter took a month to find its way to the mandate au- 
thorities. On 9 December 1925 Kharrat wrote a letter to the newspaper al-Ahrdr pre- 
served in the same intelligence file. In the letter he condemned mandate rule gener- 
ally and the new high commissioner, Henry de Jouvenel, specifically. He concluded 
by proclaiming that the revolt had nothing to do with sectarianism and everything 
to do with patriotism and the complete independence of Syria (hadhihi al-thawra 
hiya thawra al-wataniyya wa laysa taifiyya). 

20. al- As, Safahat , p. 107; see Poulleau, A Damas sous les bombes , p. 130. 

21. al- Attar, Thawrat al-huriyya fi al-mintiqa al-sddisa bi-dimasq, p. 130; al- 
Jundi, Tarikh al-thawrat al-suriyya: for the Akash brothers, see p. 387; for Abu 
'Umar Dibu Agha, see pp. 396-397. For lists of the condemned and charges, see 
MAE-Nantes, carton 405, “Surete Generate, No. 340/S.D.,” 5 May 1937. 

22. Service Historique de lArmee de Terre (shat) 4H65/D1, br 8, 8 Decem- 
ber 1925, “Region de Nebek-Homs.” For rebel numbers, see shat 4H65/D1, br 14, 
22 December 1925, “Region de Homs.” See also al-Safarjalani, Tarikh al-thawra al- 
suriyya , p. 227. He describes a much more limited range for each band and, like most 
Arabic secondary sources, ignores Ramadan Shallash and Sa'id ‘Akash altogether. 
British diplomatic reports indicate much smaller rebel numbers but, unlike French 
reports, mention wide popular support for the rebels. See, for example, fo 371/4310, 
13128/193, Smart to Chamberlain, 28 January 1926. The British consul probably did 
not have intelligence sources in the countryside and likely relied upon casual con- 
versations with French officers. 

23. Khoury, Syria and the French Mandate, pp. 144-145. See Nashabi, “The Politi- 
cal Parties in Syria,” pp. 101-102. For Khalid al-Nafawri and others, see al-Rayyis, 
al-Kitdb al-dhahabi, p. 407. 

24. shat 4H65/D1, br 19, 2 January, 1926, “Region de Homs-Nebek.” 

25. The following accounts, already cited, make this clear: Doty, The Legion of the 
Damned; Harvey, With the Foreign Legion in Syria; Poulleau, A Damas sous les bombes. 

Notes to Pages 722-729 


26. MAE-Nantes, carton 1704, br 211, 5 November 1925. 

27. fo 371/4310, 13028/334, Consul General Mayers to Chamberlain, 15 Novem- 
ber 1925; and fo 371/4310, 13028/340, Mayers to Chamberlain, 22 November 1925. 

28. U.S. Department of State, Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United 
States, 1925, Telegram 89od.oo/259, Consul Knabenshue to Secretary of State, 16 
November 1925, vol. 2, p. 124. 

29. Story based on interviews with former mukhtar Wadi' al-Ma'ri (born 1915), 
son of the mukhtar in 1925 (Jamil al-Ma'ri), and al-Haja Katrin Abi Haydar, im- 
mediate successor of al-Haja Kraytina Baz (mother superior in 1925), 10 August 

30. MAE-Nantes, carton 404, “Amnistie,” “l’affaire de Sednaya.” The file is 
thirty-three pages long and contains mostly documents pertaining to the appar- 
ently successful request for amnesty on the part of the Ahmar family. There are no 
documents relating to the Naddaf family or relating directly to the original events 
during the revolt. 

31. Based on numerous interviews in Saydnaya, summer 2002. See note 29 above. 

32. MAE-Nantes, carton 404, Etude de M. Elias Namour, Avocat, Beyrouth, “Af- 
faire AHMAR, Syrie: la demande de grace dont le dossier a ete communique au 
Secretaire Generale par la Delegation a Damas.” 

33. MAE-Nantes, carton 1704, br 244, 8 December 1925, French translation. 

34. Khoury, Syria and the French Mandate, pp. 179-180. See, for example, William 
Scheifley, “Syria’s Rebellion against French Rule,” Current History (New York) 
(January 1926): 485-490. He attributed the revolt to agitation by the French Left. 
Apparently Syrians lacked the political consciousness even to articulate their own 

35. fo 371/4310, 13028/269, Telegram, Smart to Chamberlain, 21 October, 1925; 
and “Damascus Riots: The Full Story, City Shelled for 48 Hours, Famous Places 
Destroyed,” Times, 27 October 1925. 

36. Times, 27 October 1925. The correspondent was named Merton (fo 371/4310, 
13028/303, Smart to Chamberlain, 25 October 1925). 

37. Jouvel quoted in Khoury, Syria and the French Mandate, p. 183. 

38. MAE-Nantes, carton 1704, br 237, 1 December 1925. 

39. MAE-Nantes, carton 1704, br 238, 2 December 1925. 

40. MAE-Nantes, carton 1704, br 244, 8 December 1925. 

41. MAE-Nantes, carton 1704, br 238, 2 December 1926. 

42. fo 371/4310, 13128/182, 4 January 1926, French translation included in dis- 
patch, Smart to Chamberlain. 

43. fo 371/4310, 13128/18, 17 January 1926, Mayers to Chamberlain. 

44. br 252, 16 December 1925; fo 371/4310, 13128/176, 28 December 1925, Smart 
to Chamberlain. 

45. shat 4H65/D1 br 10, 17 December 1925, “Region Ouest de Damas.” See 
also Alif Ba’, 17 December 1925. 


Notes to Pages 129-133 

46. Cited in Qarqut, Tatawwur al-harakat al-wataniyya ft suriyya, pp. 268-269. 

47. Service Geographique des Forces Franfaises du Levant, Syrie: Repertoire al- 
phabetique des noms des lieux habites (Beirut, 1945), p. 117. 

48. fo 371/4310, 13028/358, Smart to Chamberlain, 18 December 1925. 

49. shat 4F165/Di br 7, 12 December 1925, “Region Ouest de Damas.” It was 
probably more like 50-100 men. 

50. fo 371/4310, 13128/194, Smart to Chamberlain, 31 January 1926. 

51. shat 4H65/ Di br 7, 12 December 1925, “Region Ouest de Damas.” As 
my discussion of rebel sources shows, Ramadan Shallash could not have been with 
Kharrat and the ‘Akash at this time. 

52. Doty, The Legion of the Damned , pp. 172-175. 

53 .AlifBa \ 28 October 1925, listing of villages in the Damascus countryside de- 
stroyed or damaged. Alif Ba’ was subsidized by the French. 

54. fo 371/4310, 13028/281, Smart to Chamberlain, 15 October 1925. Smart re- 
ported that the prisoners, including a British Indian subject, were shot after French 
troops brought them to Damascus. He added that the troops openly sold their plun- 
dered loot in Damascus. 

55. Doty, The Legion of the Damned , pp. 120 and 185. General Andrea did not 
mention these events in his memoirs: see La revolte druze et Dnsurrection de Damas. 
For the ring road, see pp. 85-86. The ring road still exists and, shorn of its barbed 
wire, is now elevated. Perhaps coincidentally, it remains unpopular among May- 

56. fo 371/4310, 13128/179, Smart to Chamberlain, 30 December 1925. 

57. See fo 371/4310, 13128/204, Smart to Chamberlain, 15 February 1926. 

58. shat 4H65/D2 br 27, 12 and 13 January 1926, “Region de Damas.” See also 
fo 371/4310, 13128/191, Smart to Chamberlain, 19 January 1926. The reports agree in 
general; but Smart condemned the authorities for not acting before the attack, and 
he gave the insurgents more credit for tactical skill. He added that — after relieving 
the trapped train — troops pillaged and burned two nearby villages, Ashrafiyya and 
Judayda, surely driving the male villagers into the arms of the rebels. 

59. shat 4H65/D2 br 30 , 16 January 1926, “Region de Damas.” 

60. shat 4H65/D2 br 34, 22 January 1926, “Region Nord-Ouest de Damas.” 
These numbers are almost certainly exaggerated. 

61. British reports confirm that even with 10,000 troops in Damascus the French 
did not control any part of the surrounding countryside and were unable to pre- 
vent attacks inside the capital. See fo 371/4310, 13128/194, Smart to Chamberlain, 
31 January 1926. 

62. al-'As, Safahat , p. 109. This was probably the second meeting at Saqba. The 
first was on or around 26 November 1925 (p. 61). 

63. Nasib al-Bakri papers, “al-Hukm 'ala ahad qada 5 al-thawra: Ramadan Shal- 
lash,” mwt, Damascus. 

Notes to Pages 134-138 


64. Al-As, Safahat, p.107. 

65. Bakri papers, “al-Hukm. ’’ The list of matters for discussion is from al-As, 
Safahat , p. 107. The judgment against Ramadan is the only item preserved in the 
Bakri papers from the Saqba meeting. Unsurprisingly, he makes no mention of the 
apparently fractious debate over his leadership or its conclusion. A number of par- 
ticipants in the conference are mentioned by al-As but not mentioned by Bakri. 

66. Bakri papers, “al-Hukm.” The legalistic language is unique to Bakri’s record. 
The judgment purports to be decision number 91 of the Leadership Council of the 
Nationalist Revolt in Ghuta and the Region of Damascus. It is also dated ten days 
after the date that al-As and Rayyis give: 26-27 Jumada al-aula 1344 (14-15 Decem- 
ber 1925) as opposed to 5 December 1925. Conversion from Akram al-'Ulabi, al- 
Taqwim dirdsa lil-taqwim wa al-tawqit wa al-tarikh (Beirut, 1991), p. 33 7. 

67. Al-As, Safahat , p. 109. See Rogan, “Ajiret Mektebi,” p. 88, Table 1. Shallash 
is listed in the first graduating class, and a certain Air from Suwayda’ is also fisted 
without further information. This is almost certainly Afi Faris al-Atrash. 

68. Al-Rayyis, al-Kitdb al-dhahabi, p. 371. 

69. Al-As, Safahat, p. 109. 

70. Al-Rayyis, al-Kitdb al-dhahabi, p. 371. 

71. Ibid., p. 398. See al-Jundi, Tarikh al thawrat al-suriyya, p. 357, for the death 
of Kharrat. 

72. Sa'id al-As was killed fighting in Palestine in 1936. His memoir was first pub- 
lished in 1935 and is thus as close as possible to a contemporary account. Munir 
al- Rayyis, by contrast, published his book in 1969, though it seems it was probably 
recorded at least in part at the time of the revolt. Nasib al-Bakri died in 1966, three 
years before the publication of al-Rayyis’ memoir. 

73. For example, see Khoury, Syria and the French Ma?idate, pp. 161-162. 

74. Al-As, Safahat, p. 107 (original parentheses). Bakri’s record of the delibera- 
tions about Shallash does not mention the presence of the Akash brothers or Hasan 
al- Kharrat. Al-As claimed these men were present and fully under Bakri’s control. 

75. Bakri papers, “al-Hukm.” Even if these accusations were true, they would 
probably not have warranted a trial. The account of al-As and the earlier sections 
of this chapter indicate clearly that nearly everyone was engaged in some pillaging 
and levying of “revolt taxes.” 

76. For Shallash’s letters, see MAE-Nantes, carton 1704, br 211, 5 November 1925, 
and br 241, 5 December 1925, annexe 1, French translation. 

77. Al-As, Safahat, p. in. 

78. Ibid., pp. 113-114. 

79. Al-Rayyis, al-Kitdb al-dhahabi, pp. 371-372. 

80. Al-As, Safahat, p. 112. 

81. Al-Rayyis, al-Kitdb al-dhahabi, p. 407. 

82. Ibid., p. 371. 


Notes to Pages 139-144 

83. MAE-Nantes, carton 1593, “tract divers,” “Appel de Ramadan Challache,” 
2 February 1926. 

84. Khoury, Syria and the French Mandate , p. 332. 

85. See Nasib al-Bakri papers, Ministry of Justice Decree No. 1817 (mwt, No. 
115), 20 February 1928, for a list of the condemned. 

86. al-Qawuqji, Mudhakkirdt Fawzi al-Qawuqji, p. 147. 


1. Several sources provide lists of the condemned. The Damascus newspaper al- 
Muqtabas had nearly daily lists of those tried and sentenced in absentia between 
1925 and 1927. Markaz al-Watha’iq al-Tarikhiyya (mwt) in Damascus has uncata- 
loged revolt court records. See also MAE-Nantes, cartons 405 and 406, “amnisties- 
condamnes,” and mwt Nasib al-Bakri papers, Ministry of Justice decree No. 1817, 
20 February 1928. 

2. For the National Bloc leadership, see Khoury, Syria and the French Mandate , 
Table 10-2, pp. 254-257. While the leadership included men who were peripherally 
involved, like Jamil Mardam Bek and Shukri al-Quwwatli, and Fakhri al-Barudi, 
who was in jail during the revolt, their names are nearly absent from the mandate 
intelligence records and insurgent sources. All were graduates of Maktab 'Anbar. 
See Reeva Simon, “The Education of an Iraqi Ottoman Army Officer,” in Khalidi, 
Anderson, et al., eds., The Origins of Arab Nationalism , pp. 153-154. 

3. ‘Ubayd, al-Thawra al-suriyya al-kubra, pp. 205-206; Firro, A History of the 
Druzes , p. 298. 

4. MacCallum, The Nationalist Crusade in Syria , p. 171. 

5 . JamCat al- c arabiyya published twice weekly and printed its first issue on 19 
January 1927 in Jerusalem. Munif al-Hayani was probably a pseudonym. I base my 
argument that it was intended for dissemination within Syria on the fact that I 
know of no library collection that has the newspaper, but I know of several people 
in Syria (mostly in Suwayda’, but also in Damascus) who have full original editions 
in their private libraries. I thank Dr. Fandi Abu Fakhr for his unfailing generosity 
in allowing me to copy his collection. 

6. “Al-jumhuriyya al-amrikiyya al-kubra musta'amara aydan!!” (exclamation in 
original), /flffzz'W al-‘arabiyya, 7 January 1926. 

7. League of Nations Permanent Mandates Commission, Minutes of the Elev- 
enth Session, Annex 5, Report by M. Freire dAndrade (Geneva, 1927), p. 195. The 
League of Nations testimony and petitions make clear that the Syrian-Palestinian 
Congress, and Amir Shakib in particular, had no unified negotiating strategy. Philip 
S. Khoury, “Factionalism among Syrian Nationalists during the French Mandate,” 
ijmes 13 (1981): 441-469, and Syria and the French Mandate, pp. 231-233; also Wil- 
liam L. Cleveland, Islam against the West: Shakib Arslan and the Campaign for Islamic 
Nationalism, pp. 54-58. Cleveland discusses the Arslan- Shahbandar dispute in de- 

Notes to Pages 144-143 


8. League of Nations Permanent Mandates Commission, Minutes of the Elev- 
enth Session , Annex 5, Report by M. Freire d’Andrade: “The fifteenth petition shows 
us that the petitioners have reduced their claims, and that, after having asked for 
the withdrawal of the mandate and almost complete independence for Syria, they 
would be prepared, though with reluctance, to [sic] the conclusion of a treaty like 
that of Iraq” (p. 197) (MacCallum, The Nationalist Crusade in Syria , Appendix III, 
“The Ponsot Declaration of July 26, 1927,” pp. 273-277). 

9. The political and financial battles between rival nationalist factions are best 
treated in Khoury’s “Factionalism among Syrian Nationalists during the French 
Mandate.” Fie concentrates on the rivalries between the Syrian-Palestinian Con- 
gress and the Istiqlal Party. I suspect, however, that the situation was perhaps even 
more confused, since certain individuals — 'Adil al-Azma and Shukri al-Quwwatli, 
for example — were apparently members of both organizations. Khoury makes it 
clear that the rebellion suffered by being in between rival politicians during and 
after the revolt. 

10. Al-Mu 5 tamar al-suri wa al-filistini bi-misr, Dhikra al-istiqldl wa al-shuhada 5 
(commemorative pamphlet, Cairo, 1928). 

11. MAE-Nantes, carton 409, “Congres Syrienne,” annex to br 198, 10 October 
1929, French translation. 

12. MAE-Nantes, carton 409, “Congres Syrienne,” “Renseignements sur le con- 
gres de l’Ouadi Sirhan,” 28 October 1929. For the two newspapers, see Meouchy, 
“Les formes de conscience politique et communautaire au Liban et en Syrie,” Ap- 
pendix 4. Al-Sha‘b was founded in 1927 under the patronage of Jamil Mardam Bek 
and was closely affiliated with the National Bloc. Al-Qabas was founded in 1928 and 
was the successor to the famous nationalist paper al-Muqtabas. It was more radical 
than al-Sha c b and was published by Adil Kurd All and Najib and Munir al-Rayyis. 

13. MAE-Nantes, carton 409, “Congres Syrienne,” “mu’tamar al-sahra 5 ,” pro- 
gram in original Arabic and French translation. 

14. “Mu’tamar al-Nabk wa khulasa qararatihi,” al-Ahrdm, 29 October 1929; 
MAE-Nantes, carton 409, “Congres Syrienne,” No. 207, “Extraits dune lettre adres- 
see par le Docteur CHABANDAR du Caire, le 28/10/29 a TAYSSIR ZEBIAN a 
Damas,” French translation. The letter was addressed and signed pseudonymously. 

15. MAE-Nantes, carton 409, “Congres Syrienne,” “mu’tamar al-sahra 5 .” 

16. MAE-Nantes, carton 409, Officier de liaison Jerusalem, br 37, “La conference 
au camp de SOLTAN el ATRACHE,” 12 November 1929, French translation com- 
piled from British Air Intelligence. 

17. MAE-Nantes, carton 409, “Congres Syrienne,” “mu’tamar al-sahra 5 .” See also 
carton 409, Officier de liaison Jerusalem, br 37, “La conference au camp de SOL- 
TAN el ATRACHE,” 12 November 1929. 



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‘Abdallah ibn al-Husayn, Amir, 4, 90, 

Abdulhamid II, Sultan, n, 38, 40 
Abi Rashid, Hanna: book of, 53, 58, 76, 
166013; and activities, 54, 89 
Abu Fakhr family, 51 
‘Aflaq, Michel, 152 
‘Aflaq family, 36 

Agriculture: contraction, 27; expansion, 
6, 9-10, 34; produce — see Grain 
business. See also Landholding 
‘Akash, Sa'id, 101, 120, 129 
‘Akash brothers, 100, no, 120, 129, 131 
‘Alawi Muslims, 15, 16, 18, 49, 50 
Aleppo: geography, 5, 10, 19; French 

occupation and revolt, 13, 16, 49, 138 
al-‘Ali, Shaykh Salih, 16, 49 
‘Amr, Hayl, 81 
Anderson, Benedict, 20 
Andrea, Charles, 92, 93, 130, 131 
Armenians: attitude toward revolt, 

61; and recruitment in manda- 
tory forces, 103, 130-131, 137; rebel 
atrocities against, 103 
Army, Ottoman: conscription, 4, 11; 
education, 9-11, 24, 38, 95, 97; 
prevalence of former officers, 24, 
40-42, 45, 150-151, i62-i63n22 
Arslan, Shakib, 144, i88n7 
al-‘As, Sa‘id: background, 40-41, 134; 
revolt activities, 45, 97, 100, 101, 

105, hi, 115, r 33? i34, r 35? H 6 , 137. 
139, 142 

al-Asad, Hafiz, 15, 18, 19, 149 
al-Atasi, Hashim, sons of, 66 
al-Atrash, ‘Abd al-Ghaffar, 42, 52, 54, 

56, 71 

al-Atrash, ‘All (brother of Sultan), 61 
al-Atrash, ‘All Faris, 41, 118, 133, 136, 137 
al-Atrash, ‘All Mustafa, 58, i68n36 
al-Atrash, Amir Hamad, 52, 70, 75, 84 
al-Atrash, Dhuqan (father of Sultan), 38 
al-Atrash, Faris Sa‘id, 52, 54, 89, 167ms 
al-Atrash, Hasan, 57 
al-Atrash, Hilal, 76 
al-Atrash, Husayn, 43 
al-Atrash, Isma'il, 34 
al-Atrash, Mansur Sultan, 152 
al-Atrash, Mit'ib, 36, 57, 71 
al-Atrash, Mustafa (brother of Sultan), 
59? 61 

al-Atrash, Nasib, 52? 56, 71, 97 
al-Atrash, Salim, 4, 44-45 
al-Atrash, Shibli, 37 
al-Atrash, Sultan: “first revolt” of, 1-3, 
12; background, 24, 38; and World 
War I, 42-45, 49; revolt activities, 
52-59, 60, 61, 62, 72, 81, 84, 97, 100, 
102, 106, hi, 116, 139, 142, 144; and 
peace negotiations, 74, 75, 77, 78, 

80, I74nn44~45; revolt manifestos 
and correspondence, 81-83, 87-88, 
124-125, 145-146 

al-Atrash, Zayd (brother of Sultan), 66, 

81, 106, 109, 116 

al-Atrash (pi. Turshan) family, 34-35, 40 
al-‘Azm, Farid, 99 

al-'Azm family: in Hamah, 98-99; in 
Damascus, 102, 103, 104 
al-'Azma, ‘Adil, 146, 147 
al-‘Azma, Nabih, 85 

al-Bakri, As‘ad: background, 77, 78; 
revolt activities, 85 



al-Bakri, c Ata Allah, 43 
al-Bakri, Fawzi: background, 43; revolt 
activities, 83, 101 

al-Bakri, Nasib: background, 43, 46, 66, 
72; revolt activities, 83, 85, 87, 100, 
102, 106, 115, 1 33“ I 35> r 3 6 , r 37> r 39, 
141, 142 

al-Bakri family, 43, 46, 91, 100, 164^2 
Barakat, Subhi, 105, 126, 127 
al-Barazi, Najib, 99 
Barazi family, in Hamah, 98-99 
al-Barudi, Fakhri, 13 
Batatu, Hanna, 17-18, 19, 24, 149 
Ba'th Party, 15, 16, 152, 153 
Bedouin: of Jabal Hawran (‘arab al- 

jabal), 31-32, 58, 84; attitude toward 
Druze and revolt, 77, 168-169038; 
and toward the Ottoman State, 40, 
43; and toward the French Man- 
date, 84; and Druze culture, 31-32; 
Ban! Hasan tribe, 77; Ruwala tribe, 
66, 84; Barn Sakhr tribe, 66, 77, 84 
Bell, Gertrude, 79 
al-Bi‘ayni, Hasan Amin, 16 
Bitar family, 36, 152 
Borders: of the mandatory states and 
“statelets,” 13, 48-49; and national- 
ist opposition to, 128 
Bouron, Narcisse, revolt chronicle of, 58, 

Britain: and policy in the British man- 
dates, 142, 144, 148; consular activity 
in Damascus, and intelligence, 23; 
and patronage of Arab nationalists, 
79-80, 147, 182069 

Cadi, Nicolas (Niqulaws al-Qadi), Greek 
Catholic Archbishop of Hawran, 

93. H9 n 3 8 > 177-178024 
de Caix, Robert (French League of 
Nation delegate), 147 
Carbillet, Captain Gabriel, governor of 
Jabal Hawran, 51, 52, 53, 54, 62, 72, 
75, 7 6 

Chatterjee, Partha, 20-21, 22 
Christians: Greek Catholic, 122-123; 
Maronites, 89; Orthodox, 6, 122; 

and French policy, 48-49: arming, 
61-62, 109, 121, 122; attitude toward 
revolt, 61, 89, 103, 119-120; attitude 
toward French mandate, 89, 122 
Circassians: in Hawran, 37; attitude 
toward revolt and recruitment in 
mandate forces, 61, 88, 130-131, 137 
Class divisions: in Syrian society, 14, 45- 
46; in revolt generally, 25, 96, 134- 
136, 139; in rebel documents, 96, 98 
Clothing: symbolic significance of, 115 
Coblentz, Paul, 56, i66n7 
Communist Party, 90, 167M4 

Damascus, 3, 5-6, 13, 49; geography of, 
67-68; bombing of, 104-107, 108, 
109, 123, 180051, i8i-i82nn64-66 
Dentz, Major Henri, 36 
Doty, Bennett, 93-94, 130 
Druze: religion, 18; shaykhs, 33-35, 46, 
51-52; peasants, 32, 34, 36, 51, 63; 
regional concentrations, 13, 18, 30- 
33; history of revolt against state 
authority, 36, 42-43; attitude toward 
revolt, 80, 90-91, 103, 106, 127 
al-Durubi, Zaki, background, 77-79; 
revolt activities, 81, hi, 133 

Economy, Syrian: basis of, 19; general 
conditions in 1920s, 27, i6on7 
Education: elite state, 39, 105, 149, 

i62n2i — see also Maktab ‘Anbar and 
Mekteb-i Mulkiye; and military, 39- 
40, 95, 97, r 49, 162-163^122-23 — 
see also Maktab al-Pdadiyya al- 
‘Askariyya and Mekteb-i Ajiret a?id 
Mekteb-i Harbiye; and missionary 
(foreign), 40 
Enver Pasha, 44 

al-Faruqi, Sami Basha, 37-38, 41 
Faysal ibn al-Husayn, Amir (King), n- 
12; and Arab Revolt, 42-43; and 
Syrian Kingdom, 45-46, 49, 50, 58, 
66, 69, 72, 81, 83, 85, 90, 105, 143 
Feudalism and French imagination, 14, 
27- 2 9, 38, 47, 5 1 , 1 59 n 3, i62ni7 



Firro, Kais, 16 

France: policy of, in North Africa, 

Lebanon, and Syria, 47, 48, 49-50, 
143; and countryside and city, 13; 
and with elites, 25, 109, 126, 127; 
with minorities, 50, 61, 121, 122, 
130-131, I76n6; and the press, 24, 
60; and metropolitan politics of 
the Right and the Left, 50-51, 

French mandate: Service des Renseigne- 
ments (Intelligence Service), and 
documentation, 23, 56, 99-100, 108- 
i°9, 133; spies, 69, 148, I76n7; Army 
and Foreign Legion, 93, 94, 130; 
and desertion, 94; and atrocities, 92, 
93, 101, 102, 121, 128-129, 177023, 
178028, 181-1820057-65 

Gamelin, Maurice, 91, 92, 94 
Gelvin, James, I55n8, 165m 
al-Ghazzi, Fawzi, 85 
al-Ghazzi, Mahmud, 37 
al-Ghazzi family, 85, i6ini4 
Ghuta, 81, 83, 97, 100, 101, 103, 107, 109, 
hi, 119, 120, 129, 130, 133, 135, 138, 

Grain business, 8, 13, 32, 34-36, 43~44> 
46, 68, 74, 106-107, IIT > U 0 . r 5 2 > 
i6innn-i3, 165036, 18302 
Guha, Ranajit, 23, 170047 

al-Haffar, Lutfi, 73-74, 127 
al-Hakim, Hasan, 72, 91 
al-Halabi, Tawfiq, 72, 77; background, 
78 " 79 

al-Halabi, Zakl: background, 111, 133 
Hamah: geography, 95; notable families, 
r 3, 98-99; and revolt, 95-100, 137 
Hamza, Salman, 93 
Hananu, Ibrahim, 16, 49, 97, 138 
al-Hasani, Shaykh Muhammad Taj 
al-Din, 104, hi, 127, 128 
Hashim, ‘Umar, 73 

Hawran, Jabal: geography, 4, 6, 29-30, 
159m; population and social condi- 
tions, 27, 30-34, 149-150, 159-16004 

Hawran, plain of, 6; and revolt, 77, 80, 

84, 88, 92-93, 17607 
al-Hayati, Yahya, 81, 85 
Haydar, Rustum, 46 
Haydar, Sa'id, 46, 71, 84, 85, 121, 139 
Haydar, Tawfiq, 121, 129, 145 
Haydar family, 46, 121 
al-Hijaz (Kilani), Muhammad, 101, 137 
Hobsbawm, Eric, 20 
Hourani, Albert, 7, 13 
al-Husayn, Sharif, of Mecca, 42-43, 45, 
U7> r 44 

Ibn Sa'ud, 142, 144 

Iraq: British mandate for, 25, 46, 143, 144 
Islam: as an element in rebel identity 
and resistance, 96, 98, 101, 109, 116, 
117-118, 134, 136 

‘Izz al-Din al-Halabi, Muhammad, 

background, 41, 42; revolt activities, 
54, 58, 78, 81, 91, 92, no, in, 112, 

114, 116, 118, 133, 136, 137, 138, 139, 

Jamal Basha, Ahmad (Ottoman Gover- 
nor), 42, 45, 78 

al-Jaza’irf, Amir Sa'id, 79, 104, 105 
Jaza’iri family, 105-106 
Jouvenel, Henry de, 109, 126, 127, 128, 
i3 g . U9> r 44 

Kaylani family, in Hamah, 99 
Kemal, Mustafa (later Atatiirk), in- 
fluence in Syria, 12, 149, 156012; 
influence of Turkish independence 
movement, 97, 116, 136 
Khalidi, Rashid, 15508, 158027 
al-Khalidi, Yusuf Diya’ al-Din, 37, i6ini4 
Khanjar, Adham, 3-4 
Al-Kharrat, Fakhri, 101, 106, 118 
al-Kharrat, Hasan, 100, 101-103, 106, 
no, 116, 118-119, I2 6, 129, t33, 
134-136, 138 

al-Khatib, Dr. Khalid, 145, 146 
Khoury, Philip, 7, 16-17, 39> 8°> I2 5 
al-Khuri, Faris, 85, 127 
Kurds, 119-120, 131 



Landholding: absentee, 6, 35, 127; small, 
32-33, 35, i6on7; communal — see 
Mushd ‘ 

League of Nations: Permanent Man- 
dates Commission, 1, 60, 87, 88, 143, 
147, 155m, i88n7, i8gn8 
Lebanon, Greater: creation of, 48-49, 

50; civil war, 16 

Lebanon, Mount, 5-6, 30-31, 33, 34, 35, 
48, 89 

Lyautey, Louis-Hubert, 51 

al-Mahayni, Subhi, 107, no 
Mahayni family, 36, 102, 103, 106-107 
Maktab al-I c dadiyya al-‘Askariyya (Da- 
mascus military preparatory school), 
11, 39, 41, 78, 142, 162-163M2 
Maktab ‘Anbar (Damascus civil prepa- 
ratory school), 39-40, 43, 105, 142, 
150, i62n2i 

Mardam Bek, Jamil, 14, 66, 85, 90, 142 
Martin, Tommy, 55-56, 59 
Maurel, Lieutenant, 54-55 
Maydan quarter, Damascus: and French 
military suppression, 130, 131; and 
grain business, 13, 34-35, 46, 68; and 
revolt activity, 13, 68, 83, 103, 107, 
hi, 112, 113, 116, 133, 146, 150 
Maysalun, battle of, 41, 46, 47, 49 
Mekteb-i Apiret (Imperial Tribal 
School), 40, 41, 1630025-26 
Mekteb-i Harbiye (Imperial Military 
School), 39-40, 41, 151 
Mekteb-i Miilkiye (Imperial Civil Ser- 
vice School), 39, 151 
Michaud, Roger: his column and the 
battle of al-Mazra'a, 62-64, 68, 72, 
91, 171^6, I77ni8 

al-Mu’ayyad al-‘Azm, Nazih, 85, 133, 137, 

Mukhtars (village head men), 24, 100, 
123. r 33 

Musha (landholding), 36, i6on5 

Najjar, ‘Abdallah, 75, 77 
Nasser (Jamal ‘Abd al-Nasir), 149 

National Bloc (al-Kutla al-Wataniyya), 
39, 141-142, 146, 147, i88n2 
Nationalism: emergence of, 18-19, 20- 
21; popular, 8, 13, 22, 25, 42, 46, 

48, 95, 96, 98, 106, 108-109, II0 > 

112, 134; rural varieties of, 4, 13, 48; 
among Druze, 52-53, 57-58, 70-72, 
95, i66n8; of urban elites, 13, 66, 
126-127, 141-142, 173036 
Newspapers and the press: during the re- 
volt, 24, 83, 92, 94, 146, 159039; cen- 
sorship, 24, 100, 125; sponsorship, 

24, 102; al-Ahram (Cairo), 143, 

147; (Damascus), 167026, 

i68n29, 186053; L’Echo de Paris 
(Paris), 167M4, 167-168027, 169042, 
171056, 178032; L’Humanite (Paris), 
167024, r 74 n 49; Jdmi'at al-‘arabiyya 
(Jerusalem), 143-144, i88n5; al- 
Muqtabas (Damascus), 24, 74, 85; La 
Syrie (Damascus), 102; The Times 
(London), 125-126, 181059 
Normand, Captain, and his column, 
59-60, 72, 1690040-42 
Notable classes: politics of, 6-8; and 
education, 39-40 ; and grain trade, 
35; attitude toward Faysal, 45-46; 
and toward mandate authority, 66, 
98-99, 104-105, 106-107, 126-127, 

Ottoman Empire: reform, 9— 11; pro- 
vincial administration, 5-8, 62; 
education, 10-n. See also Education; 

Palestine, British mandate for: 1936 re- 
volt in, 12, 104, 142; and Zionism, 

People’s Party: meetings, 68-69, 71-72, 
73-74, 87, 146; members of, 66, 73, 
77, 127; and arrests, 85-86; program, 
69-70; attitude toward revolt, 73- 
74, 77, 79, 80-81, 96, 98; in Hamah 
(Hizb Allah), 96, 98 
Ponsot, Henri, 144 



al-Qadi, Niqulaws. See Cadi, Nicolas 
Qasim, ‘Abd al-Karim, 149 
al-Qasimi, Zafir, 72 
al-Qawuqji, Fawzi, 41, 42, 45; back- 
ground, 95-96; revolt activities, 
97-99, 103, hi, 116, 118, 120, 121, 
139, 1 4 °> 142 

al-Qutami, ‘Uqla, 61, 146 
al-Quwwatli, Shukri, 14, 66, 142, 144 

Raynaud, Antoine, 52, 53, 54, 55, 72; 

peace negotiations of, 75-81 
al-Rayyis, Munir, 96; background, 97, 

r 34> T 37> r 3 8 
al-Rayyis, Najib, 85 
Ridwan, Husayn Murshid, 53-55 
al-Rikabi, ‘All Rida Basha, 90 

Sakhr, Husni: background, 91; revolt 
activities, 125 

Sarrail, Maurice, 50, 55-56, 66, 69, 75, 91, 

102, 103, 109, 125-126, 127, 167024 
al-Sarraj, Sami, 83 

Sawsaq, Jum‘a, 116, 117, 129, 138 
Schilcher, Linda, 43 
Seale, Patrick, 40, 149, 151 
Sectarianism: and French policy, 48-49, 
130-131; in rebel relations, 61-62, 
119-120, i84ni9; in revolt historiog- 
raphy, 15-17, 29 

al-Shahbandar, ‘Abd al-Rahman, 46, 69, 
70-72, 78, 87, 90, 91, 96, 101, 115, 

121, 146 

al-Shahbandar, Mme, 87, 175059 
al-Sha‘lan, Nuri, 84 
Shallash, Ramadan: background, 118, 
t 34 -t 3 S; revolt activities, 41, 49, 99, 

103, no, in, 116, 116-118, 121, 124, 
134-138, 139 

Shamiyya, Tawfiq, 85 

al-Sharabati, ‘Uthman, 85, 87, 146 

Shaykhs, 24, 29, 33-35, 40 

Shishshakli family, 117-118 

Shuwayri family, 36 

al-Siba‘i, Mazhar, 97 

Smart, W. A, 60, 62, 79, 105, 125, 129, 


Soule, Francois, 100 

Sukkar, ‘Abd al-Qadir: background, in; 
revolt activities, 107, no, 112, 114, 
t32, 133, T 37 

Sukkar family, 36, 107, in, 113 
al-Sulh, Riyad, 146 

Suwayda’, 53, 54-55, 56, 59-60, 62, 63, 91, 
92; French capture, 94, 178^2 
Syria: creation of, 12, 48-50; idea of 
Greater Syria, 4, 58, 147-148 
Syrian-Palestinian Congress, 144, 145, 


Syrian Revolt: beginnings of, 12, 48, 50- 
57; historiography of, 15, 156016, 
180-181056; objectives of, 112, 115- 
116, 128, 147; significance of, 23-26 
Syrian Unity Party, 73, 172023 

Transjordan, British mandate of, 3, 4, 90, 
9 1 , 92, io 5> II8 , r 42, 147 
Trenga, Major, 51 

‘Ubayd, ‘All, 54 

‘Ubayd, Salama, 54, 55, 58, 78, 79, 93 

World War I: and the Arab Revolt, 42, 
69; and British policy, famine (sefer- 
berlik ), and the grain trade, 44-45, 
165036; and Arab army officers, 41, 
149; and Jabal Hawran and Druze 
and fugitive nationalists, 44-45